How will COVID-19 affect divorcing parents?

by | 16 Mar 2020

This is the first time I’ve written about C-19… it probably won’t be the last. 

Last week, WHO issued guidelines on protecting your mental health during the outbreak of coronavirus. The guidelines suggest that you ‘seek information mainly to take practical steps to prepare your plans and protect yourself and loved ones‘. I am concerned that C-19 could create flashpoints for separated parents. Here are six practical suggestions to consider today:

  • Start a dialogue with your ex to discuss how ‘contact’ will be maintained if C-19 interrupts the usual routine.
  • If you are already divorced, broach the issue of maintenance payments, if a change in routine or income will lead to a variation
  • Consider how you will rise to the opportunity of having children off school, and how you will share this with the other parent
  • Ensure your children’s needs are met (practical and emotional) 
  • To keep the ball rolling with your divorce, prepare to meet your solicitor, coach, financial adviser or therapist online instead of face-to-face – get ID verified ASAP if necessary
  • Reach out: now’s the time to both give and receive support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  

‘Reasonable parents make reasonable decisions’

Co-parenting relationships are delicate and easily knocked off course, so I urge you to act in a measured and proactive way. This can be such a challenge, I know, all the more so with the whole world under pressure. 

For divorced parents with a Parenting Plans or court orders, it’s anticipated that there may be periods when the usual routine will be disrupted. 

A court order is legally binding, and there can be stiff consequences for breaching an order. However, this global public health emergency might mean we need to look to the principles of an order more than the specifics, at least for temporary periods. The underlying premise of most child arrangements agreements is that both parents should spend quality time with their children: these relationships really matter.

My suggestion is that parents acknowledge this potential issue and make plans for ‘contact’ to be maintained, perhaps including a discussion about whether lost time will be compensated for. For parents in a high-conflict relationship, this might be the first time in ages you’ve engaged in dialogue with your ex, but I think a conversation (whether written or verbal) needs to begin. If you have an amicable relationship this could be normal for you.

For temporary periods at least, virtual contact may become the safest option for some families: how lucky we are that the internet makes this easy for us – indeed, chatting to Mum or Dad over Facetime or Whatsapp or Skype is nothing new for many children with two homes. 

This health emergency is unprecedented and we will all have to make unexpected decisions and bear responsibility. It is certainly not the time to expect a Judge to become the ‘third parent’: mums and dads will have to find ways to maintain the children’s relationship with both parents. I do hope coronavirus will not lead to an increase in angry parents seeking enforcement from the court, nor an increase in angry parents using C-19 to deliberately or manipulatively reduce their children’s access to the other parent.

Virtual help and advice

If you’re in the process of divorcing, C-19 will likely cause delays in an already over-stretched system. However, in itself it does not mean divorce proceedings need to be put on hold.

Many law firms are offering virtual services – some are asking for verified ID and now’s a great time to get that in place.  Your solicitor can explain what you need to do. As a coach, I offer all my divorce coaching online using Zoom.

I empathise with parents for whom this pandemic will drag out existing proceedings, especially those of you still living with your STBX. If you haven’t already, you may want to establish groundrules and set new boundaries to prepare for spending more time together than you would otherwise choose.  

School closures and childcare

Maybe your children are already off school; maybe you’re preparing for this. Like many others, you may be feeling worried about juggling childcare while home-working, or you’re fearful of loss of earnings. These are not exactly new challenges to many a single parent… and now they’re shared by a the nation-at-large*. To my mind, parents should approach childcare as a joint problem requiring a joint solution: how you do this will depend on your family’s circumstances.

A great piece of advice I often draw on is, 

‘When you don’t have resources, you have to be resourceful.’

Some parents need an authoritative source to get the other parent to ‘come on board’. If C-19 may cause changes to the paying parent’s income, or the receiving parent’s number of nights: the CMS website offers information and this may be necessary to make your point clear.

During this global health emergency, people’s true colours will come to the fore. ‘Good parents’ will find the right ways to pool resources, financial and otherwise. No one needs more negativity and conflict at this time (if ever) – it is possible that C-19 could be the catalyst needed for positive change in many relationships.

Co-quarantining with an abuser?

More worrying than delays in the Family Court, is the concern that C-19 could cause an increase in domestic abuse – reports from China show a recent surge in domestic violence over recent weeks. See Resources for helpful links and remember your GP and police are there for you.  

Children’s welfare and wellbeing

On a practical note, children need exercise, fluid, fresh air and healthy food to maintain good health. For mental health and emotional wellbeing they need to feel loved and happy, despite the fears and uncertainty we’re facing.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

It’s going to be a real challenge for many of us to keep our children feeling calm, happy and safe. I am so grateful for friends, both in our real and virtual worlds. Self-isolation and social distancing does not mean you are alone.

This is a time of both clouds and silver linings. While our number one concern is our safety and health, it really matters that we make ways to stay connected to each other; to care for and support each other so that we feel calm and positive for our children’s sake, as well as our own. 

If you’re dealing with the double pressure of divorce AND Covid-19, it is more important than ever that you have a robust support network. If you’d like help navigating these days of uncertainty, please get in touch to book a complimentary call today.  I’d love to talk to you.

Further resources

  • Women’s Aid  https://www.womensaid.org.uk
  • National Centre for Domestic Violence https://www.ncdv.org.uk
  • COVID for Children – a free download from Mindheart.co to prevent children feeling anxious – download here
  • Government updates regarding possible changes to court hearings: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-courts-and-tribunals-planning-and-preparation

*Seen on Facebook today:

MP Tracy Brabin is compiling a dossier on how COVID-19 is affecting the self employed. (across all industries, not just broadcast/events/entertainment)

If you’ve lost work due to being ill or have had work cancelled due to the virus, please let her know your story. If enough people tell the government what is going on out there it may help form future policy.

Her email address is:
tracy.brabin.mp@parliament.uk

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