A Guide to Sharing Custody and Co-Parenting During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Updated: May 5, 2020
A licensed social worker and positive parenting expert offer their actionable tips for dealing with the realities of co-parenting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Co-parenting during coronavirus - 4 tips from a family therapist

Among the most difficult parts of handling the COVID-19 pandemic is being unable to see family and friends regularly. This can be especially difficult if you are co-parenting a child with a former partner, not only logistically, but physically as well.

More: 4 Rules It's Okay to Break During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Luckily there are resources available and plenty of tips to make the transition easier.

Stay In Communication

For starters, health and the care of your child or children should be top priority. Your emotional health is also something that should be well taken care of, which can stem largely from positive communication with your co-parent. However, roadblocks can occur if you end up in a disagreement about safety protocols and precautions.

Kristen Arquette, licensed social worker and FamilyEducation expert, explains how to navigate dealing with disagreements during this time: “Co-parenting is tricky even in the best circumstances, and so added challenges stemming from emergency circumstances will be the rule and not the exception. If parents disagree about the severity of the virus, they can expect disagreements about precautions too. Most couples split up because they don't see eye to eye, however it's a myth that in order to work well together, they have to share the same views. Acknowledge that the other person's feelings are legitimate, and approach conflicts with compassion and respect. Arguing with or badmouthing your co-parent in front of your child makes the child feel even more helpless.”

Practice Healthy Habits

Should you run into the scenario where one of you gets sick and your child is either with or without them, the other parent should do what they can to stay connected during that time without coming into contact to reduce the spread. If a parent ends up losing out on custodial time and the child is not at an age where they can coordinate contact on their own, safely do your part to ensure they are still communicating with the other parent.

In addition, practicing social distancing also means your child will likely not be seeing family members as frequently from either “side,” so ensure they are staying connected in that department, as well.

Don’t have time to finish reading? Pin it for later:

Set Boundaries

Your children are bound to have questions about what is going on, and it’s perfectly OK to not have all the answers right now! Again, open communication is key here when discussing with your co-parent what you plan to expose your children to via the internet, social media, and the news.

Arquette shared some advice about limiting the exposure of news updates to your children, and how to handle this with an ex: “Be cautious about media exposure. For younger children, provide direct information at an age-appropriate level. Limit yourself to sharing factual information rather than opinions about how others are navigating this crisis, especially your co-parent.  If your child reveals that your co-parent is not practicing social distancing guidelines, do not react in front of your child. Share your concerns with your ex directly and agree to follow advice from your child's pediatrician when you disagree. With older kids, watch and listen to the news together and encourage them to ask questions. Do not expose your kids to information streams meant for adults.”

While you want to maintain boundaries that make everyone involved feel comfortable, it’s also important to be understanding that just because they are also an adult, it doesn’t mean that your ex isn’t also struggling with their emotional wellbeing because of the pandemic. Work together so everyone can feel their best.

Be Open With Your Children

Just like there should be open and fluid communication with your co-parent, make sure you’re each communicating properly with your child, and strive to have an understanding with them about how to handle this uncertain time. 

Heather Wallace, Positive Parenting Expert and Love & Logic Certified Parent Educator and FamilyEducation expert, cites that books can be a positive resource for parents at this time: “I find the best way to explain any difficult situation is through a book. There have been many social stories created to discuss the topic of the coronavirus and why we have to stay home. Children are quite curious and books are a great conversation starter.”

Remember, this is a stressful time for everyone, so be gentle with your co-parent and child by providing as much consistency as possible in regards to general rules, schooling at home, and routines. Arquette said it best: “One of the realities of splitting up is that you lose your influence regarding what happens in the other household. Shift your attention to where you can have an impact in your own home. You can't control whether your ex takes the kids to the park, but you can reduce their risk by washing their hands and changing into clean clothes when they enter your home.” 

Despite the unusual circumstances, do your best to maintain court orders and custody agreements, as well as an overall sense of normalcy, for the sake of both parents and the children. If it gets to the point where you cannot reach a civil agreement about something and the situation is escalating, contact your lawyer or a family law attorney for a virtual consultation. You may also be able to schedule an appointment with a mediator virtually.

Looking for ways to keep the kids busy and learning during social distancing? Sign up for the Prepared Parent, a daily newsletter filled with everything to help mom and dad in their roles as teacher-parents.