Family life can be chaotic. A crisis adds another layer of logistics to the already complicated lives of parents, guardians and children.
The coronavirus pandemic, for example, has parents wondering if their children can safely play outside, if kids next door can come for a visit, and if they should be wearing masks. For parents who are separated or divorced, answering these questions can be even harder.
How can parents sharing child custody prepare for and respond to a crisis?
1. Consider the Challenges
A crisis can hit families at various points in the separation process. Parents may be divorced, in the process of getting divorced, or living together but planning to separate. If their state court has to postpone hearing dates or close entirely, the family may be stuck in a particular phase for some time. More at …
2. Create a Crisis Parenting Plan Template
Jennifer Joyner-Hall, PsyD, a psychologist and parenting coordinator, encourages parents to consider their children first.
“Parents really have to figure out what the best interests of their children are and figure out how to trust their partner in co-parenting so that the kids can have success,” she said.
For those with shared custody, the first step in preparing for or responding to a crisis is creating a parenting plan that allows both parents to have time with the child or children. For families currently in crisis, the plan needs to work in the present moment, at least until the legal custody process can be completed.
Stubbs counsels parents to take the initiative to work a crisis custody agreement out themselves, if at all possible.
“Don’t incur legal fees,” she said, adding that during the current pandemic, “kids are already under enough emotional stress, and they sense it when their parents are fighting all the time.”
Memel, the specialist in marriage and family therapy, noted that parents can make better decisions in crisis scenarios for their children because they know them and understand the conditions in which they thrive. A judge probably does not. More at …
3. Practice Compassion and Self-Care
When a crisis rocks a family’s life, the parents are often the ones who must set things back in order. Recreating stability for children at home can be exhausting—especially if the world outside continues to be unstable. Investing in self-care and redirecting unhealthy thoughts can help parents endure a crisis, even one that lingers. More at …
4. Seek Legal Counsel and Weigh the Options
During a crisis, state courts, which handle divorce and child custody claims, may be forced to postpone hearing dates. Parents may be unable to access the legal routes typically available for resolving disputes and solidifying agreements.
The legal options available will differ by state, and legal counseling should always be sought from professionals who can provide guidance tailored to the family and their geographic area.
The following options for creating temporary agreements that last until the courts resume full operations or revising custody agreements and parenting plans during crises may be available to families in some states. More at …
The coronavirus pandemic has proven particularly challenging for parents with shared custody of their children. But Stubbs, Memel and Joyner-Hall all have witnessed couples coming together to provide physical and emotional safety for their families during this time.
“Really, the majority of people do that,” Stubbs said. “But there are enough that don’t that I still am really busy with that percentage.”
This article is for informational purposes only. For legal advice, please seek the counsel of a legal professional.
Are you interested in counseling families? Learn more about what a master’s in marriage and family therapy can offer.