Advice for Divorced and Separated Parents: Decision-Making during COVID
Just ask any parent if they are feeling stressed-out by back-to school decisions and you will most likely hear an emphatic “YES!” School districts are requiring parents to work out schedules using a mixture of on-site classes, remote learning, and homeschool programs, which is throwing many families into a tailspin. The situation for divorced or separated parents raising children in separate households is even more complicated. A co-parenting education plan formed before the COVID pandemic may not work for the 2020-2021 school year.
“There can be controversy over safety issues and managing education issues for each child. There can be a lot of disagreement between divorced parents which only adds to the anxiety,” says BJ Mann, a mediator in Rochester, NY who has helped more than 2000 couples through the divorce process.
Mann points out that as with any parenting issue, the focus must be on the best interest of the child. It's also important to structure discussions between the adults that let each parent feel able to express their opinion and be heard.
Here is a list of questions that divorced or separated parents should address as soon as possible as they plan their child's education year together:
Education considerations for co-parents during COVID:
✅ When, where, and how will the kids go and get to school?
✅ Who will supervise the child’s learning when not at school? How will the balance of supervision be handled?
✅ Who will coordinate and pay for educational materials such as online classes or tutors if needed?
✅ What considerations should be communicated to the child's school? Who will be in charge of the communication?
✅ Will new child-care options need to be considered?
✅ Are both parents considered to be part of the child's "pod"?
Other COVID considerations for co-parents:
✅ Will evening / meal sharing need to change given the new flexible (or inflexible) school schedule?
✅ What are each household's standards for the use of protective equipment like masks, or associating with others outside the immediate two households?
✅ How will vacations and holidays be spent? Are there special considerations for grandparents and extended family who may be especially subject to COVID?
✅ How will communication with the child be handled while he/she is at the other parent’s home?
✅ Planning for potential lockdown: If the pandemic flares again and a region is required to "shelter in place," or if one or more family members is required to quarantine, how should this be handled?
✅ Health care: Who will accompanying the child to the doctor if it is necessary?
COVID presents special financial challenges as well as scheduling and visitation issues, which could mean that child support might need to be re-assessed. A divorce agreement itself might even need to be re-negotiated to include COVID-related issues like quarantining and the use of masks for personal safety. Mann created a detailed COVID Co-Parenting Checklist to help families be aware of areas of focus, which can be downloaded here. It includes a worksheet and scheduling calendar. Click here to view and download that checklist (it's free).
Mediation as an option
If parents do not feel comfortable or can not reach a compromise, it can be wise to reach out to a mediator.
“A mediator can help the parents have their say and keep the discussion going in the right direction to find resolution,” says Mann. She advises that those facing such issues should look into mediation as a potential lower-cost alternative to hiring a divorce attorney.
BJ Mann is an advanced practitioner family mediator who has guided more than two-thousand couples through the divorce mediation process. She is the author of A Better, Not Bitter Divorce: The Fair and Affordable Way to End Your Marriage.
For post-divorce couples, BJ Mann is offering a reduced price for a 2-hour session to revisit an existing Parenting Agreement through the end of 2020. Mediation sessions can be held by tele-conference. She can be reached at 585-234-8740 or through her website.
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