Co-Parenting in an intact family has enough challenges on a regular basis, but even more so during sheltering and social distancing, either ordered or maintained voluntarily, during the Coronavirus. The challenges may be even greater in a family living out of two different homes, post judgment. The following observations apply to both intact and divorced families.
Communication is the most valuable tool parents must utilize during this period. If you haven’t been practicing this in the past or simply have not given it much thought until now, focus on how you communicate with the other parent. Focus on what is going on around you at the present time. Be honest in taking any positions and provide validity to your thoughts. Try and understand the issues the other parent is having before responding. Be considerate of the feelings of the other parent before responding. Be responsive without allowing your emotions to guide you, but concentrate on the children’s best interests, not your own best interests.
The best interests of the children is something that parents may not always agree upon. What should be the guide to best interests? Looking out for their health, safety and welfare is a good start. But what does that mean? As it relates to our current conditions under the pandemic, it could mean a great many things in not wanting your children exposed to the Coronavirus. This may include keeping your children isolated from other children; not allowing your children to leave the home except to play in the yard; not permitting others to enter your home while you are maintaining family isolation from the outside; and, in the case of one Miami couple, it could mean not permitting your children to spend time in the other parent’s home for fear that the other parent may have contracted the virus as a result of their job as a health care professional. This is a real issue that was recently brought to court in Miami by a father who sought to prevent his child’s Mother from having any time with the children because she is a doctor working in the hospital setting in Miami. The Parenting Plan had established equal time sharing when the parties had gotten divorced.
One would hope that in the case of an intact family, both parents would be on the same page in deciding what is best for the children. However, that is not always the case. Parents often have different parenting styles. Especially now, some are finding that what worked before while one of the parents typically had more time with the children while the other worked full time, is now different with both parents currently either working from home or having been laid off from work. Keeping open lines of communications is very important during this pandemic, not only for divorced couples but also to avoid the breakup of a marriage.
So, as a suggestion, communicate and find out what you can agree upon and focus on the positives rather than what you disagree about. There should be much more that can be agreed upon than not. For instance, try and agree on schedules for the children that work for everyone, including meal times, exercising, chores, school work and extra-curricular activities – and which parent will be in charge of, or participate with, the children in any of the activities.
Also, be flexible in discussing the things you may initially disagree upon and be willing to compromise or even give up your position to the other parent’s wishes. Be creative in finding ways to reach a resolution. Ask yourself whether maintaining the peace and finding solutions is more important than being right?
Under Florida Law, divorced couples already have a Parenting Plan in place as an Order of the Court. The Parenting Plan has two main components: 1) Parental Responsibility; and 2) Timesharing. The vast majority of Parenting Plans provide that both parents shall share in the responsibility of making decisions for their children and if the parents are unable to decide the Court will have the ultimate decision-making authority. The parents can either decide between themselves, use a mediator or use a parenting coordinator to help with the decision, or utilize the Collaborative Process to come to an out-of-court agreement. Whether or not there is access to the courts, it is highly recommended that the parties work together to come to an out-of-court resolution. Court should always be the last resort in working through disagreements concerning your children. After all, who knows your children better than the parents, and who besides the parents are better suited in coming up with an amicable resolution to the disagreement?
It should be known that in most Circuits in Florida, the Courts are upholding the Orders that are already in place concerning timesharing. Unless there is a very good reason to vary the timesharing schedule, the court will enforce what is already in existence. And if there exists a very good reason not to follow the timesharing in existence, the parents should be able to properly discuss all reasons for any change in the current schedule. Both parents should be reasonable, flexible and even creative in discussing any changes, which may or may not include a make-up time component in the ultimate resolution. Additionally, do not give in to any temptations to propose changes because of your own fears and emotions. It is difficult to believe that either parent would intentionally want harm to befall their children for the sake of following a timesharing schedule put in place when there was no pandemic.
Children are our most valuable possessions. They are able to produce grandchildren. So, there is a vested interest of the parents to work together to come to amicable resolutions on co-parenting your children. Waiting for grandchildren is truly worth the wait and you do not want to be left out when they finally arrive.
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