Working to get to a place where each parent is comfortable with the other household can take years of trials and tribulations. Now, coparents with minimal conflict and an established routine have had an unforeseen wrench thrown into things: COVID-19. The underlying issue that causes conflict in split households is the worry that comes with one parent lacking control or knowledge over what occurs in the other’s household, which is why communication is important — but even with great communicators, this can be hard. As a family lawyer, I'm flagging some issues that I've seen arise during COVID-19 with split household families, and sharing advice on how to resolve these problems.
1. Vaccinations. As vaccines become more widespread, parents may have differing views on whether the members of their household will become vaccinated — whether it be parents, relatives, and soon, children. Parents must consider the science presented, consult with the pediatrician, and discuss their concerns and values. Whether parents or children get vaccinated could impact parenting time in limited situations.
2. Third Parties. Significant others, extended family, and caregivers are third parties that children may be in contact with. It is appropriate to ask questions to ensure they are abiding by CDC guidelines, and if genuine concern arises regarding the presence of third parties, first address it with your coparent. If the issue persists, it may be time to address the concern with a mediator, family therapist, parenting coordinator or the Court if necessary.
3. Summer Travel. There are different reasons why travel may occur over the summer. First, if one parent lives out of state, it may be necessary for either the parent or child to travel, perhaps for extended parenting time, or simply for summer vacation. If you plan to take a trip over the summer, it is important to give notice to your coparent as soon as possible in order to avoid last minute conflict. In addition, discuss logistics such as whether you’ll be driving instead of flying, who you will be traveling with, the location where you will be staying, and what you intend to do during the travel.
4. Exposure. Create a game plan for what will happen if one parent or member of a household becomes exposed to COVID-19. This can include preparing for quarantine, who should be tested, and coordinating make-up parenting time. Consult with your child’s pediatrician for advice regarding quarantine procedures and testing. If in-person parenting time must cease for a quarantine period, consider how virtual parenting time can be exercised through Zoom, Facetime, or similar.
5. Back to School. As summer plans are discussed, the next step will be the return to school in the fall — for which more and more will be an in-person setting. Parents will have to make decisions such as what district, public or private, in person, remote or hybrid. While vaccines are increasing and schools are reopening, there is still a lot unknown. Stay in the know on what schools are offering and how they are deciding to operate in the fall and keep these questions in mind, so they do not create last-minute chaos.
Communication regarding all of these issues helps to minimize the conflict. If there is disagreement, it is likely more time and cost effective to utilize mediation or a parenting coordinator before turning to litigation, or a family therapist to learn communication skills.