Guidelines for Coparenting in Times of Crisis (COVID – 19)
Helpful Tips for Successful Communication Between Parents
- To all our clients: The following seven guidelines (adapted from AFCC, 2020) are presented to all our coparents who, in these stressful times, are experiencing difficulties and challenges in exercising their parental authority and complying with an existing parenting plan or court order. We want to underline our emphasis on the importance of the interdependence of all parties involved, the need to focus on flexibility that will lead to new solutions, and the fact that there is a family narrative that is being played out and that your children will carry with them into adulthood. These are exceptional times requiring collaboration, mutual trust, and creative solutions. We know that you will rise to the occasion in ensuring the best interest and well being of your children.
- BE HEALTHY. Comply with all federal, provincial and local and guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. Always stay informed as there are new developments every day. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.
- BE MINDFUL. Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic, but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age appropriate.
- BE COMPLIANT. With court orders and parenting agreements. As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The parenting agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing.
- BE CREATIVE. At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums and entertainment venues are closing all over Canada and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, and games, and communication through FaceTime or Skype.
- BE TRANSPARENT. Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.
- BE GENEROUS. Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.
- BE UNDERSTANDING. There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances. Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories and a family narrative. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.
New Proposed Divorce Act in Canada
Legislation (Bill C-78) was tabled by the federal government in May,2018, that will overhaul and modernize the Divorce Act and make the family justice system more efficient and accessible.
According to Justice Minister Judy Wilson-Raybould, thenew bill will add clarity with regards to better defining terms related to domestic violence, best interest of the child and relocation. As well,it proposes to change outdated language e.g. custody and access, with the aim of using terms thatare less adversarial such as parenting time, parental responsibilities and parenting plans. Importantly,it encourages greater use of alternate dispute resolution services such as family mediation and less recourse to litigation and the intervention of the courts. Other changes will make it easier for parents to relocate and collect child support payments. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce conflict and keep parents out of the court system while minimizing the negative impact on children.
For more information, consult the following link: http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/pl/famil/index.q
Issues and Discussions
The Notion of Continuity in Family life
It is not uncommon to hear from both professionals and those affected by a separation or divorce that the family is no longer a viable unit following marital or partner break-up and that family life has, somehow, ended.
Most people conclude that any change at the couple level necessarily spells the death knell of family relations and that something completely new emerges. In other words, much like a house of cards, if one set of relations is removed or changed from the base, then everything else comes tumbling down. Such drastic conclusions, while prevalent, distort a more optimistic and realistic view of what actually takes place, that is, that family life continues. Ask any child of divorce and they will tell you that what they most wish for is that their family life, as they have known it, will continue and that their parents will get back together. Although the latter wish is seldom realized, their desire and need to have little else change is heartening and encouraging.
Separation and divorce might spell the end of a couple or marital relationship between two adults but does not entail the end of all ties and obligations among the members. The bonds between parents and their children that existed before will continue to be there afterwards, as will the obligations and privileges that being a member of a family affords. If we acknowledge the continuity of family relations (including at the co-parenting level) then we can also entertain the possibility that the capacity for parents to meet their children’s material, social, and psychological needs will be greatly enhanced in the long term. There is great merit and truth in the saying… “A Couple One Day, but Parents for Life..
How Coparents Can Communicate More Effectively
Effective communication between the parents ranks highest on the list of all the elements that contribute to a successful co-parenting arrangement. In fact, better communication leads to better adjustment after separation and divorce.
Helpful Tips for Successful Communication Between Coparents
Helpful Tips for Successful Communication Between Parents Some Useful Communication Tools for Parents: • Really Listen – effective communication requires that two parents listen to what is being said and that they let the other know that they have understood their concerns. This can be done by: 1) listening to the feelings behind what the other parent is saying, and 2) re-phrasing what is said back to the other parent. Really listening also requires not prejudging or judging what the other parent says. • Use “I” Messages – when addressing the other parent, start your statements with “I” rather than with “you”, which may project blame and invite a defensive response from the other parent. By using “I” statements, a parent can convey his/her own feelings and opinions while taking ownership of what is being said. Also try to avoid using words like ‘always’ or ‘never’. (Text from Families in Transition – A travelog)
Some Useful Communication Tools for Parents:
• Really Listen – effective communication requires that two parents listen to what is being said and that they let the other know that they have understood their concerns. This can be done by: 1) listening to the feelings behind what the other parent is saying, and 2) re-phrasing what is said back to the other parent. Really listening also requires not prejudging or judging what the other parent says.
• Use “I” Messages – when addressing the other parent, start your statements with “I” rather than with “you”, which may project blame and invite a defensive response from the other parent. By using “I” statements, a parent can convey his/her own feelings and opinions while taking ownership of what is being said. Also try to avoid using words like ‘always’ or ‘never’. (Text from Families in Transition – A travelog)