The COVID-19 pandemic is a stressful period and has led to a lot of uncertainty in the community. It may also lead to added pressures for separated parents and provoke anxiety in children, as well as their parents.
The Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia has provided some very useful tips for separated parents, which are summarised below:
Practice good habits for your children, family and friends, to minimise the risk of spreading the virus. These include frequent and thorough handwashing and responsible social distancing. A simple routine can become a habit in no time at all and with little effort. Guidelines around these practices are available at:
You should let the other parent know that you and all members of your household are following these guidelines. As with all co-parenting, a consistent message across both households benefits the children.
Be Present & Considered
Children have probably already accessed a lot of information about the Covid-19 virus through their school, peer networks and social media. Children may not always be able to accurately process all that information in a manner that allows for peace of mind.
Older children may have had their studies disrupted and major social events such as school formals and celebrations cancelled. Younger children can readily become confused. All children may become scared by the perceived magnitude of risk.
Meeting You Obligations
If your parenting arrangements are regulated by a Court Order or Parenting Agreement you must still meet your obligations under those terms, unless a “reasonable excuse” applies. The meaning of “reasonable excuse” is set out in the Family Law Act 1975 at section 70NAE.
If arrangements become unclear or cannot be met, for example because of quarantine, travel restrictions or because schools close, use your common sense to find solutions to those challenges.
If you anticipate a change, give the other parent plenty of notice and an explanation, so that they have time to adjust.
If schools are closed and changeover normally occurs after or at the beginning of school, nominate or start planning for another neutral and public location that would be suitable and where social distancing practices can be maintained.
Handover arrangements may also need to be changed if activities are no longer going to be available. Think about whether you will be required to work from home and whether it is feasible to do so when the children are in your care.
If, for some reason, time spending arrangements with another parent or important people cannot occur, propose other ways to try and maintain the connection, such as Facetime or Skype.
Try to be on the same page with the other parent about things that you will each do in your respective households and wider communities to limit exposure to the virus and to shield the children.
If a child is showing any symptoms, that information should be shared immediately with the other parent and an agreed response implemented. Know what your own self isolation plan will be, so that if that is necessary, you can share that with the other parent.
If there has been a risk of exposure to the virus, be honest about that with the other parent.
Think about how you would like the other parent to engage with you about these issues and put that into practice yourself. Make accommodations to the other parent if it is possible to do so and if it is good for the children. You should expect the same accommodations in return.
If for some reason time cannot occur at one point, suggest that it occur at another point. All children will benefit from parents who are able to give and take on a mutual basis.
The messages about what we should all be doing appear to be changing regularly and that makes it difficult to apply certainty to planning. People may be under more stress than usual and some people may respond to events or risk in a way that seems disproportionate to you. It is important to understand that this is a highly unusual situation and it affects the entire community. There are no rules for how we should feel, or how we should react to such a circumstance.
It is very difficult to remain calm in times of high stress but you are more likely to reduce conflict if both parties are making the best effort possible.
Be Solution Focused
Parents and other adults concerned with the care of the children must be willing to find compromise in the interests of the children during this period. The Courts will increasingly have limited availability and dispute resolution services may be hard to access. Common sense and respectful engagement are likely to result in the best outcomes.
Help Out To The Extent That You Can
People may lose jobs or experience a reduction in their income. This might impact what can be paid by way of Child Support or contribution to other expenses relating to your children.
Try to be understanding of the situation the other parent might find themselves in. Financial worry will probably exist in both households. The message being sent to your children should be that both parents and households are working together to find solutions as good as possible for the children.
Be Patient & Positive
This situation is not going to resolve quickly. There will be changes to the way we work, socialise, communicate, and parent that have already occurred and will continue to occur in the next weeks and months. They may continue for an extended period.
Make an effort to acknowledge the positive moments in each day and stay connected to friends and family who can support you. Remember that you are providing the guidance and example for your children during these tumultuous times.
If you would like some additional ideas go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/managing-stress-anxiety.html