Co-Parenting in California Through the Current COVID-19 Pandemic

Note: Information about the current coronavirus pandemic is evolving rapidly. Please refer to your attorney or other legal practitioners in your area to answer your specific questions related to family law and the COVID-19 crisis.

 
A mother looks out the window as she holds her baby.

Due to the threat of the COVID-19 virus, at the beginning of March 2020, California’s governor proclaimed that a State of Emergency existed in California. On March 19, he ordered that all individuals living in California stay at their place of residence, except as needed to maintain the 16 critical infrastructure sectors identified by the federal government. These orders are in place until further notice.

Co-Parenting in California Through COVID-19

In this article, I will outline some key information as well as suggestions that can help co-parents across California to navigate shared parenting throughout this Coronavirus pandemic.

The Effect on Pending Court Cases

Since California’s family courts are now closed, except for emergencies such as domestic violence, co-parents with pending court cases can expect significant delays. This link has information about Court closures. Contact your family lawyer, if you have one, for specific details.

School and College Closures in California

Most of California’s elementary and secondary schools and colleges and universities are closed and offering online instruction. The governor has predicted that schools could remain closed until summer break.

Many parents are now working remotely from home while trying to manage their non-school age children and assist with their older children’s online school instruction. Parents can find a wealth of information about California schools and colleges at EdSource.org, which is updated daily.

Protecting Against Domestic Violence

Studies indicate that enormous stressors arising from natural disasters and challenging economic times, both of which are occurring during this pandemic, increase the rate of domestic violence. Shelter-at-home and social distancing orders are necessary to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. However, isolating victims of domestic violence with abusers puts them at risk for further abuse

If you are a victim of domestic violence or are living in a situation where you fear for your safety:

  • Connect with friends, family, and neighbors via phone, text, email, FaceTime, and other telecommunication platforms.
  • Consider moving in with a friend or family member.
  • Work out a safety plan with a friend or family member. For example, you can decide on a code word that you can say or text to a friend or family member so that this person can call the authorities on your behalf.

Here are useful resources that may be helpful to parents in California who are experiencing problems with domestic violence. Even throughout this pandemic, these organizations are still available to help.

Effective Communication with Your Co-Parent

Sharing parenting can be challenging enough without adding a pandemic into the situation. In the midst of this crisis, clear communication will help you and your co-parent manage family matters throughout this situation. 

Recognize Health Recommendations and Create a Plan

Agree to follow public health recommendations and government orders, such as social distancing, hand washing, etc., and the behaviors in each household that will support these recommendations and orders. Calmly discuss how you will enact these recommendations and orders in each home. You will be lowering the possibility of you engaging in conflict and will ensure that you are both doing all that you can to protect your children’s health and safety.

Create a plan about how you will work together to keep your children healthy physically and emotionally during this crisis, including what you will do if a serious health concern arises at either of your homes.

Try Building Comparable Schedules

If possible, create similar routines for the day at each home. Schedules can help children (and adults) feel more secure. A timeline for the day could include the early morning routine of waking, bathroom hygiene, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and going outside for a while.

Next in the schedule could be children doing their online schoolwork and parents doing work. Later, playing some games together, doing puzzles, etc. You can find an abundance of fun activities to do with your children here.

Be Cautious About Your Conversations

Avoid talking about emotionally charged topics, such as financial or long-term custody issues, scheduled to be addressed at future court hearings. You are planning for the short-term. Additionally, ensure your children are not in earshot of your discussions, phone calls, or those of others, for example, other family members or friends.

Avoid Withholding Parenting Time

Do your best not to use this pandemic as an opportunity to control or withhold your co-parent's parenting time with your children. Down the road, the court may be reviewing your actions during this time. Of course, if you have serious concerns about your children’s health and safety while at their other parent’s residence, contact your medical professional or your attorney, if you have one, for advice.

If you run into an unsolvable conflict with your co-parent, contact your attorney, if you have one. Also, many family therapists, mediators, collaborative divorce professionals, and other out-of-court dispute resolution professionals can help you to resolve your conflicts. Visit these websites for referrals in your area:

Author's Bio:

Carol Hughes is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and family-focused divorce professional in private practice in Laguna Hills, California. For over 30 years, as a therapist, co-parenting and child specialist, divorce coach, and mediator, she has assisted families experiencing separation and divorce. Carol has served on the Boards of Directors of Collaborative Practice California and Collaborative Divorce Solutions of Orange County. She is the co-author of Home Will Never Be the Same Again: A Guide for Adult Children of Gray Divorce, published by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers and available on Amazon or directly from the publisher.