Co-parenting can be difficult on a good day. During a time of crisis the dynamic between co-parents can become amplified. Co-parents who have a good working relationship may find the COVID-19 crisis is serving to strengthen their relationship as they work together to figure out how to support their children emotionally, physically and financially as best as possible.
For co-parents with strained or conflicted relationships, the pandemic may be creating even more stress and tension than ever before.
Regardless of where your relationship is at here are a few suggestions that will hopefully assist you to come together and find your way through this period of time. Keep in mind, the situation we find ourselves in could go on for several months. This initial period of time is just the beginning. So take a breath and tackle things one issue at a time. Your children are counting on both of you to get them through this.
1. If you are currently in the middle of the separation process there are certain things that may be best to put on hold. This would be a difficult time to be making big financial decisions such as what to do with the family home. Instead, focus on the kinds of decisions that will help you get through the next several months.
2. If you already have a Separation Agreement in place this situation does not suddenly invalidate it. That being said, it may be necessary to make some adjustments. These temporary amendments will require conversations and new agreements.
3. More than ever, your children need the love and support of both parents. Unless one parent is in quarantine, this is not a time to suddenly change your parenting schedule. Your children need the consistency and predictability that it provides. Although you are in separate households consider your family a unit. This means moving the children between the two homes, as per your usual schedule, while restricting everyone’s contact to just the family as much as possible. In this way your two households can remain a safe, unexposed unit.
4. If your financial situation has not changed significantly then make your child support payments. Child support payments help to keep a roof over your child’s head and food on the table. However, in this unprecedented period of time, many people are experiencing significant changes in their financial situation. Don’t just suddenly stop or refuse to meet your obligations. These changes require a discussion and a plan.
5. Here are suggestions on how to manage potential adjustments to your financial agreements. First, spend time researching which financial relief benefits you each qualify for such as EI, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or mortgage deferrals. Then, individually, begin working your way through your list and make the necessary phone calls. This will take time, perseverance and patience. Once this is complete the next step is for each of you to create a household budget based on your “new normal.” To make this easier, download this Excel Household Budget spreadsheet. You can input your expenses and income and it will automatically total your numbers. Share your budgets with each other. Based on these budgets begin the conversation about what temporary adjustments need to be made to get both households through this period of time.
6. If you make any temporary adjustments to your Separation Agreements write them down so that you are both clear on what those agreements are and you can refer back to them when needed.
This will be a roller coaster ride. There will be good days and there will be difficult days. Good agreements meet the needs of your children. Your children need BOTH of their parents to be supportive of each other because, ultimately, that support extends to the well-being of your children.
COVID-19 will be a defining event in your child’s life. It’s up to you, as co-parents, to get them through this as best you can.
If you need assistance to have these discussions feel free to reach out and we can discuss how mediation via videoconferencing can assist you to resolve these issues and get a COVID-19 parenting plan in place.