By Attorney Bryna S. Klevan
Co-parenting after a divorce can be challenging in the best of times, but throw in a pandemic and mix in a dash of the courts being closed (except in the case of dire emergencies), and you have a recipe for real confusion for you, the other parent, and the children. With schools being shut down, and all sports, music lessons, dance classes and all other extra-curricular activities canceled, how is it possible to maintain the “regular schedule” for children with parents living in two separate homes? Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court John D. Casey sent out a letter dated March 24, 2020 reminding us all that “parenting orders are not stayed during this time.” This means that if there is a divorce judgment or an existing temporary order, the existing schedule remains in effect.
Some parenting schedules never anticipated that there would be a closure of the schools and when both parents need to work during this pandemic without childcare, these parents will need to work together to fill in the voids that have been left by the sudden and unexpected closure and schools. It’s possible that they will need to come up with an agreement to modify their schedules to protect their children and their families from potential exposure to the virus. To the extent that it is feasible and in your family’s best interests and ability, the parenting schedule should remain as close to the same as before the pandemic. If parents are not able to reach agreement on adjustments to the schedule may wish to consult with a mediator. Mediators are now offering their services without the need for the parties to travel to their offices. With the convenience of setting up videoconferencing, from the comforts of one’s own living room, a mediator can help parents come up with a temporary modification without having to tackle the conflict on their own.
For some families, there may not have been any agreement or court order in place yet. In arriving at a parenting plan during this pandemic, here are some specific tips and discussion points in addressing parenting issues during COVID-19
- Ensure that there is a common plan for the children and social distancing in each parent’s home so that when children go back and forth between homes that there is minimal exposure for other members of each parent’s households.
- If one parent becomes exposed to or becomes sick with COVID-19, make sure that there is an advanced plan of action such as requirement to notify the other parent and decide whether someone else care for the children during that parent’s time or will the children return to the other parent’s home?
- If a parent must self-quarantine or is restricted from having contact due to illness, ensure that the children are able to communicate with the parent by video conference or telephone.
- If the children normally switch homes in the middle of the week or week on/week off, then you may want to extend the time to two weeks on and two weeks off in order to watch for any signs of illness or exposure.
- Discuss any questions about exposure and risks of infection with your children’s pediatrician.
Parenting teaches us many things, co-parenting during COVID-19 can teach us that flexibility for the sake of protecting our children’s health and our own is of paramount importance. At the end of this pandemic, my hope is that we will all come through this as a stronger and more resilient community, with a greater understanding that we have the capacity to be more flexible and compassionate.
Attorney Bryna S. Klevan is the owner of Klevan Law Office, PC in Newton Centre, and has over 25 years experience as a family law attorney, mediator and certified parent coordinator. If you have any further questions or need assistance with a parenting issue during this pandemic, she may be contacted are 617-244-9000 or through her website at www.klevanlaw.com.