Co-parenting during Coronavirus 

If you’re a co-parent, no doubt you’re reeling from the storms coronavirus is causing with your child arrangements. Whether they are court-ordered or not it ‘s a challenge. Co-parenting during Coronavirus will help you navigate the Government advice and remind you that common sense should prevail.

Guidance is out there for parents, but it’s open to interpretation and has caused some confusion. In Co-parenting during Coronavirus we’ll go through it all together.

Please bear in mind advice and instruction on child arrangement orders may change – so do check back in with the judiciary’s latest official guidance here as the outbreak progresses.

Do we need to comply with our Child Arrangement Order?

Not to the letter, no – but yes, in spirit. The judiciary is clear that parents must stick to the Stay At Home rules that are in place for everyone. Only leave the house for essential shopping, work, medical need or daily exercise near your home.

However, Co-parenting during Coronavirus allows children under 18 to be taken between parents’ homes. Just because this is allowed does not mean it is required. The judiciary has asked parents to work together to decide what’s best for their situation.  You should take into account travel, health and other household circumstances.

It may be best to temporarily suspend your arrangements. If you do that, you are expected to ensure both parents get access to their children through FaceTime, telephone calls etc.

Document what you have agreed in writing, such as a text or email, so you can refer back to it if needed.

What if we don’t have a Child Arrangement Order?

The same guidance applies. You are not required to stick to the usual arrangements you have made between you. Ideally, both parents will work out a temporary solution together, which enables children to see both parents, whether physically or virtually.

And if your ex is being completely unreasonable and you can’t agree? Read on.

What if my ex is demanding the children but I don’t feel it’s safe for them to travel?

If this is genuinely the case (and do think about your motives carefully), then the guidance allows for you to exercise your parental responsibility and not move your children between households. You will be expected to ensure your children see their other parent through calls, video calls etc. so they can maintain contact.

If you do have your children at home, away from your ex, make sure you keep a record of all efforts you make to ensure they stay in touch – FaceTime, WhatsApp calls, zoom, telephone etc. so you can evidence that you are not trying to keep your children away from their other parent.

What if your ex is threatening to issue a Child Arrangement Order if you aren’t already subject to one – or to apply to breach you if you are? Let them! Seriously. Let them. So long as you can justify your refusal on sensible and reasonable grounds, you’ll be fine. 

If there is disagreement the Family Court will look at whether the actions of each parent were reasonable and sensible in light of the Coronavirus outbreak. They will want to see evidence that you acted with the best interests of your children and public health in mind. Bear in mind that Family Courts will have limited resources during this time, and are likely to prioritise urgent cases such as domestic abuse.

What if my ex has the children and won’t let them come to me?

Equally, your ex has the right to exercise parental responsibility – and if the matter is heard in court will be expected to evidence they acted sensibly given the circumstances we are living in. They will also be expected to ensure you have access via video or online channels. Keep a record of all your communication so you can provide evidence for how they acted if they are being unreasonable.

What if I’m in a High Conflict situation?

If your ex is a high conflict personality, you are probably getting all kinds of grief and financial manipulation from them. Co-parenting during Coronavirus is especially challenging for you However, the above guidelines still apply and do what you can to keep firm boundaries in place. If you need to shut down manipulation and abuse from your ex through your lawyer, do so. Report any incidences of harassment to the police. A warning may be sufficient to stop the behaviour but you may have grounds for a non-molestation order. If you think this may be your case, seek legal advice.

Insist on communicating through a dedicated app like Our Family Wizard. It will help you to keep a log that can’t be tampered with. Tell your ex you’ll only communicate through this method and mean it – your boundaries must be firm here. If you can afford to offer to pay for them do – don’t give them a reason to refuse (most high conflict personalities do their best to avoid these apps as their manipulation goes on the record). 

Remember that text communication can be faked! Google ‘fake Whatsapp message’ and you’ll see just how easy it is. So don’t be fooled into thinking your texts are a safe record. When it comes to high conflict, you need to be as locked down as possible.

Reality check for co-parents: it’s not about you

Public health comes before your individual child arrangements. This might sound blunt, but we are in unprecedented times, and at the moment, and for the foreseeable future, the top priority is protecting everyone’s health. We are all being called to act with the needs of the most vulnerable in mind, not prioritising what suits us best. Co-parenting during Coronavirus is not normal co-parenting.

The guidance issues by The Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, on 24 March 2020 clearly states that there is a duty to act reasonably and sensibly. Where the letter of the law cannot be upheld, they expect it to be met in spirit. When making decisions for your family, have this at the forefront of your mind.

There’s more to life than Coronavirus

In these uncertain times, it feels like Coronavirus is all-consuming. I know – it’s true for all of us, co-parents or not. We’re worried about our health and the health of loved ones as well as scared about our jobs, homes, and finances. But there is more to life than coronavirus and we will get through this.

Focus on the things that you can control and cherish the fun things your children are doing – exercising with Joe Wicks or drawing pictures for the NHS, or to put on your windows. There is so much community spirit on show in this time of crisis. And what your children will remember is how you made them feel. If you’re with them, keep it relaxed and fun. If you’re not, make the most of calls, do online games, do bedtime stories via zoom.

And look after yourself. Co-parenting during Coronavirus may be emotionally challenging for you, so treat yourself with love and respect. Do something for yourself every day – even if it’s five minutes of yoga, or just sitting with a cup of tea. Check-in with loved ones. Try and ensure you get some exercise (wear a sports bra if you join in with Joe Wicks!), and get some sunshine. Take each day as it comes and know this too shall pass.

The Absolute Academy has your back

The Absolute Academy is my online membership group. It runs via Facebook and online training portal so it’s all virtual and safe. You can get proactive support with your divorce both emotionally and legally. It can save you thousands in divorce costs because the knowledge you get allows you to use your solicitor efficiently if you can afford one or supports you to DIY effectively if you have to.

At the moment we’re holding Zoom meetups on Mondays and Wednesdays, along with my weekly Facebook Live Q&A. The Zoom meet-ups allow members to come together in a virtual space to see each other on video and share how they’re feeling, what their struggles are (divorce-related or not) and to celebrate their wins.

They get coaching and support from me of course, but equally as powerful, the sisterhood is strong! And we all benefit that, now more than ever. A safe community of women who get what it’s like when you’re cut off from usual social interaction. Does that sound like something you need right now?

Your divorce may be on a go-slow, but you have to keep going. And you can use the go-slow to get prepared. Get all your paperwork together, to do the inner work in deciding what you want and need from the future so you’re ready to hit the ground running.

These are challenging times and The Absolute Academy is here to support you. I’d love to see you in there. If you think it’s for you – just take a look and sign up here.

About Emma

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is author of the Amazon best selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com

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