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CO-PARENTING AND COVID-19

CO-PARENTING AND COVID-19

Co-parenting remains a priority in the uncharted territory of the future. Children need the reassurance that their parents will work together to protect and nurture them in a new and very different world. Many parents are facing never even imagined challenges and need the cooperation and support of their children’s other parent to keep the children safe and secure during this time.

Parents know that their children’s safety is a priority; however, each parent may have a different idea of safety. The overriding question is: Do the children need to stay where they are in order to stay safe or, in order to stay safe, do they need to leave. With the assistance of regular news updates on how your area is affected by the virus, parents will be making a plan to keep the children out of harm’s way. “Survival” may become an issue where your children live. Co-parents can arrive at an answer to the basic question of safety and survival with a realistic discussion of individual circumstances with the children’s safety a priority.

Co-parents have been parenting sharing time and parenting responsibilities per a parenting plan that they constructed in the past. That plan may be unworkable in the currant circumstances. The new goal may be keeping the children safe within the confines of two homes while sheltering in place. Co-parents will need to construct a plan to accommodate the health and needs of the children and each parent.

Most school age children are involved in distance learning during this time. Many of the children need parents to supervise and help with this process, whether it is online learning or paper and pencil packets. The process can be extremely challenging for both children and parents. The success of distance learning hinges on the ability of the co-parents to support their children and each other in this very important area of children’s lives. Parents will need to develop a working agreement to accomplish the continuation of their children’s education.

Parents working at home may be a new situation for some families. Cooperation is essential to allow the double duty of child care and employment to keep the income stream flowing. In some cases, one or both parents may no longer be employed and the income stream has stopped. Each situation presents a unique set of circumstances that requires co-parents to brainstorm for solutions that both keep their children safe and promote healthy development.

JANGLE BELLS

 

The time between Thanksgiving and January 1 is usually ultra-busy. We look forward to the season but it is a lot of work. For those going through a divorce or who have recently divorced, it can be busy and also emotionally stressful.

 

Think about it. As a newly single person, you now have all the tasks to make the holidays “happen” on your plate. In addition, there is an emotional component. You are no longer a family in the way you were before the divorce. The family is “broken” and may not yet be repaired to a comfortable, workable relationship. Or, if you had an amiable divorce, there is sadness and a void.

 

The first year is usually the most difficult. You may have to scratch all the old traditions and create new ones. It is wise to get ahead of this and begin immediately to think about how you want the holidays to go and how closely reality will get to that dream. Of course, in planning your divorce, you had an opportunity to create a plan together how each holiday will go with the focus being on how the children’s time will be spent. It is important to not make any large changes. For example, If Christmas Eve is always spent at Dad’s parents, can that continue without Mom? Will the children experience “split loyalty”? Will they feel guilty as the identified source of conflict between the parents? Be available to hear your children’s concerns about dividing time between parents through the holidays.

 

It is important, in the season of gift giving, that children have a gift for the other parent. They may need help choosing and purchasing an appropriate gift. This is an opportunity to model the spirit of the holiday season and to let them see that they are free to love the other parent too.

 

 If Thanksgiving Day alternates between both Mom and dad’s families can that continue? Think about what you have done as a pre-divorce family and see how closely you can stay to that, just without the other parent present.

 

The presence of the children creates the feeling of family. Whatever plans you have agreed to in your parenting plan, the parent who does not have the children could be at loose ends without plans on how they will spend the alone time. When you are in that position, you can spend the time at your family celebration, with friends, volunteer to feed the homeless or take a trip. Whatever is decided, it will be a new tradition.

It may take a few tries to arrive at the perfect solution and as the children get older, their needs and wants will change and be factored in. Don’t leave your alone time over the season to chance or the last minute. Proactively change Jangle bells to Jingle bells.

Not Fair

Giving up one’s position on a certain issue is often difficult with many factors weighing in and approaching a divorce mediation session in the context of “not fair” is daunting.

  • First, there is something that is personally central and important about the logical fairness of that position.
  • Second, we all test the logic and fairness of our position over and over in our heads cementing our fairness points in our mind
  • Third, there are emotional reasons we hold on to our position. These may or may not be known to us

When preparing for mediation, we probably need to take a closer look at our position; how do we envision the outcome? What are the most important points we need to get across? How does our position differ from the other person and how does our position impact him or her? Where can we give and take? And, what is the “payoff” for sticking to our guns? In divorce mediation, there are some typical concerns for both parties; “Am I going to be able to live comfortably going forward” “Will I lose control over parenting my children” “Is it fair that I have to pay out this much money over such a long time” “I entered into this marriage with the clear understanding that my job would be mother and homemaker, why do I have to go to work now?” Because Georgia is a no fault state, one person can file for and be awarded a divorce without substantial grounds for divorce. * See Ga code Title 19 Domestic Relations, Chapter 5 Divorce; Grounds for Total Divorce 19-5-3 This legally changes “fair”. How, then, can we reconcile in our own minds the situation we face that feels so unfair? Let’s take a look at the first premise of our position. How does the outcome one desires fit into the overall fairness of the divorce, and how do the present circumstances interfere with that premise? Remember, some promises made 5, 10 or 20 years ago are now off the table. The one thing that is never off the table is the combined obligation of supporting the children. Secondly, let’s do some out-of-the box thinking. We have a new playing field and new rules. With a divorce, we have two households instead of one and limited time and income to support them. How can both households be both solvent and emotionally healthy? Up to this point, a person may have been protecting his/her own future by digging into a position that he/she thinks is fair and will provide what he/she has been accustomed to. This may be to the detriment of the spouses’ futures. Mediation is an opportunity to come together and look at the overall situation and plan something “fair” to both parties. The law will help with this. There are guidelines for spousal support, division of property and child support. And lastly, a person may ask, “What are the emotional factors that keep me stuck on what is fair for me? In other words, what do I gain from feeling the way I do?” In order to resolve this one for ourselves, we must do some much deeper introspective thinking. There are no guidelines for the feelings of being alone, being single again or having one’s life turned upside down. A good therapist can help a person work through all these issues and teach him/her how to address this with grace.

Fractured Family

Everyone has his/her side to the story of this fractured family. Bob and Emily are estranged from their son, Adam. They have have not spoken in ten years Bob and Emily  are saddened by this “horrible” turn of events, Adam, not so much.

Adam is 37 years old, married with two young boys and lives in the same city as his parents. How did this come about? If you ask the parents, it happened “all of a sudden”.  One minute they were one big happy family, the next, Adam refused to talk to them and cut off all contact with the family. If you ask Adam, it came on slowly, over the years.

When did it start? Actually Adam is right, years ago, quietly, innocently and insidiously with all the best of intentions.

Bob and Emily had high hopes for their only son. He was smart, clever, personable, nice looking and got good grades. They were pushing him towards reaching his potential of being an attorney like his father. They practically had him signed up for Harvard Law School in the 3rd grade. They were so proud of him; he was a star football player and on the debate team in high school.

Can you begin to see the problem that was developing as Bob and Emily plowed ahead with their dream for his future; arranging college visits to their choices for Adam, telling their friends of the plans ahead for him, all the while ignoring his loud protests that he had his own dreams that did not include law school? Bob and Emily had stopped listening to Adam. Finally, Adam stopped talking. He left home after high school and studied music with the intention of becoming a professional musician.

Bob and Emily could not accept this decision and felt compelled to let him know what poor choices he was making when he came for Sunday dinner. When Adam married, his choice was not up to his parent’s standards. Slowly, any desire to be around his parents diminished. He stopped coming to Sunday dinner, and when his children were born his parents were not asked to be present at their births. Adam’s sister, Caroline, was sent to try to reason with him, to no avail.

We get many requests from desperate parents wanting to reconcile with their estranged children. Could mediation possibly help?

Meditation is a cooperative process where all parties agree to meet together and listen respectively and with an open mind, to the others. The desired result is an agreement crafted by both sides to make behavioral and verbal changes to their interaction. These changes are outlined very specifically on paper, and everyone signs, indicating that he/she is willing to comply with its directives.  Because mediation is facilitated by the mediator but driven by the parties’ desire to reach a mutually satisfying solution, the basic principle is “free will”.  Each party is not coerced in any way to reach an agreement he/she does not fully support. This process, however, will require some compromise and understanding of the other side.

In the case of Adam and his parents,  Adam will want his parents to stop criticizing his choices which which his parents disguise as helpful information. He may also want his parents to support him and realize he is happy and his choices work for him. His parents will want Adam to accept the fact that they love him, only want to the best for him, and, as his parents want to continue to offer him the wisdom of their advanced years and experience.

Some minor changes in how this family interacts with each other will go a long way towards bringing them closer together. Sitting down to do some deep listening to each other, with a third party to guide a productive discussion that is free of defensiveness and blame, is the real key.

The Three Sides To Every Story

Susie’s (age 8) story: “Mom came to school, got my brother, Sam, and took him to the circus. She left me at school.
Susie is telling her story as she remembers the event. Some underlying
emotions might be hurt, jealousy and disappointment. She probably feels Mom’s treatment of her was unfair. Susie lacks accurate information and fills in the blanks with a story that makes sense to her.

Sam’s (age 6) story: “Mom likes me best.”
Sam is happy about the event. He had Mom’s attention and he liked the circus
very much. Does he care about Susie being left at school while he had a good time? Sam probably doesn’t even think about her.

Mom’s version: “I chaperoned Sam’s class on a field trip.”
The actual situation, minus the emotions, is an easily explainable event. The
difference in Sam’s perspective and Susie’s perspective is a source of family conflict. Mom will probably mediate the situation by pointing out that the flyer for the field trip was posted on the refrigerator, apologizing to Susie for neglecting to tell her about it, time together.

Most mediations involve at least three sides of a story. Each participant has a perspective and the third version reports the facts of the matter. Eye witness
versions of incidents have proven to be unreliable. Each person brings his/her
interpretation to the witnessed experience. Memories are also biased by perspective. Although the Susie/Sam example is simplistic, the basis of many conflicts involves different sides to the same story. Emotion colors each version.

How does a mediator help participants come to an agreement when the stories
are different? The mediator acts in much the same way Mom does, without the
personal involvement. During the mediation, each participant has an opportunity to tell his/her side of the story. The mediator listens for areas of agreement and helps the participants recognize how the areas of agreement can be useful in constructing future goals.

Honest and open communication is important during the mediation process.
Participants may not trust each other and each may accuse the other of lying, when, in fact, each is telling the story from his/her point of view. The mediator makes sure that each party can be heard and encourages communication between the parties so the opportunity to provide new information or correct false information is available. The mediator helps the participants create a “new story” by combining some of each version. The areas of agreement provide a starting point. Constructing a parenting plan may begin with “access to both parents is important to both of you”. The “new story” will evolve when the parents discuss and work through a plan that provides that goal.

YOUR CHILD’S OTHER PARENT

You chose your child’s other parent for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons may have been time-sensitive. In any case, your child has genes, traits and characteristics that are only half yours; the remainder comes from the other parent. What does the connection mean to the child who has your blue eyes and the other parent’s curly hair? What is the other parent’s role in your child’s life if separation and/or divorce occurs? What is your relationship with your child’s other parent in that case?

Most parents would agree with the research that indicates the ideal is for a child to have two parents who are actively involved in parenting. Becoming a parent is a life-long commitment; there is no going back. The family can continue even though the marriage ends. Your child’s other parent is still your partner in the parenting journey.

Parents can make a plan for their child’s future that will provide access to both parents and allow each to provide the nurturing and guidance the child needs. Even though you and your child’s other parent may have personal and relationship difficulties, you have some common goals for your child. Co-operative parenting with a specific plan to meet those goals can relieve the stress of life style changes, especially for the child.

Communication is key for co-operative parenting. You and your child’s other parent will practice a style of communicating that is different from the style you used as a couple. Communication will be focused on the child and the child’s needs and interests. Many parents communicate by text and/or email because a written record allows them to check times and dates and eliminate misunderstandings that can happen with verbal communication. Some websites allow calendar input and make scheduling easier.

Practicing consideration for your child’s other parent sets a good example for the child and often costs nothing. An example might be a text saying,” Johnny had a flu shot today. He was brave but he didn’t like it.” and add a picture.

Language can make a difference as well. Instead of “my ex”, refer to “my child’s other parent”. It’s a more accurate description. When speaking to your child, refer to “your dad” or “your mom”. Language is important and can help your child to maintain a feeling of connection.

Mediation can help parents make a plan that will work for each of them, keeping the child’s needs at the forefront. Each child is different and you and your child’s other parent know your child better than anyone else. You know how your family works. A mediator can guide the planning process to develop a custom plan that fits your family, your child.

FINANCES AND GRAY DIVORCE

Married at twenty-two right after college graduation, Wife pursued a career until the first child was born. Husband worked at an entry level job until his potential was recognized and his career path was established. After the lean years when the couple bought their first home and worked hard to economize and save money, Husband climbed the corporate ladder and Wife aided his efforts by taking care of the children and running the household. No financial need for Wife to return to work, so she enjoyed the fruits of Husband’s labor. When the children went to college, Husband and Wife realized that they had little personal connection, other than the children, and neither of them wanted to stay in the relationship any longer. This is gray divorce.

He was a musician and she was a medical student. They met at a concert and married 3 weeks later. Wife continued her studies with the help of student loans and Husband provided some income from infrequent musical gigs. Wife completed medical school and residency and joined a clinical practice. They had two children during this time and Husband cared for them. Wife had a thriving practice but spent little time with the family. At age 60, Wife decided that she wanted to live a different life style. This is an example of gray divorce.

The finances of gray divorce seem simple. If a marriage begins in a couple’s younger years, premarital assets are few. Most of the assets have been acquired during the marriage. Likewise, any debt is usually marital debt. In this case, the common solution is to divide assets and debt equally because both Husband and Wife have been parties to the marriage. If both Husband and Wife have a history of employment outside the home, this solution may be a viable one.

Complications arise because long term plans are disrupted and one party may seem to be at a disadvantage financially. IRA’s, 401Ks, and pensions come into question. To whom do these assets belong? If the marital home has a mortgage, who can refinance? Rental property or a second home may be solutions or further complications. Social security payments or anticipated payments may be a part of the picture. How are contributions to the marriage that are non-monetary valued?

Mediation can ease the gray divorce financial situation by helping participants enter the next phase of their lives feeling secure because they have a custom made plan for their future. The participants have life experience and being of a certain age, understand the importance of financial planning and financial limitations. The mediator can encourage creative thinking and productive communication. Mediation in a gray divorce situation promises a new way of life for both Husband and Wife.

Post Divorce Parenting Plan

Often parents worry about how much input they will have in their children’s lives after a divorce. A detailed parenting plan is required by the state of Georgia for all divorcing or separating parents and never married parents seeking legitimation. It is a plan for who will care for the children each day of their lives until they are eighteen years old. It outlines who will drive them to school, buy their clothes, provide food, housing, and how decisions for their lives will be made, etc. Parents can customize the plan to fit their family, their children, and their life style. If parents do not make a custom plan, the judge will assign a plan that may or may not fit your family.

In mediation, parents can develop a current parenting plan as well as extend the plan into the future as the children’s needs change. The ideal Parenting Plan prevents a return to court for modification. Parents have hopes and dreams for their children. A mediator can help parents turn those dreams into reality by planning for their children’s futures.

Continuity of the family helps children to have a sense of security. If a child knows he can count on seeing Mom/Dad at specific days and times he can be confident that Mom/Dad will care for him. Young children especially need the comfort of routine. Anxiety is lessened if a child knows what to expect.

Major areas of decision making are addressed in the Parenting Plan. Ideally, both parents will discuss all major decisions and come to an agreement. However, when agreement seems impossible, you will need to assign a final decision maker.  The areas of decision-making include education, religion, non-emergency medical care, and extra-curricular activities. A mediator can help you decide how to select the tie breakers for each area.

The Parenting Plan is not cast in stone. Parents can spend time with their children and make decisions outside of the Parenting Plan, if they can agree. If the parents cannot agree, the parenting plan is the default position. A mediator, as a neutral third party, can help the parents construct a plan that is durable, flexible and a custom fit for their family.

The Community Divorce

“Who gets the friends?”  Dividing assets and liabilities, although sometimes difficult, are easier than dividing the friends. The dining room table doesn’t have feelings or opinions, friends do.

Your social network, which includes family, will all have an opinion. Some will feel obligated to support one of you over the other. Those who are in your confidence will be inclined to “take your side”. Same will be true with your spouse.  It will actually be up to you help everyone know how to behave, and go forward.

One of the most awkward and sensitive situations involves family. If you or your spouse has become close to the in-laws, all the feelings, reasons for the divorce will have to be resolved somehow if you want to maintain good, friendly relations. While you are grieving the loss of the marriage, so are they. If grandchildren are involved, it is critical that you maintain your relationship for their sake. After all, everyone will be attending performances, games, baptisms, graduations, etc. Ask them if you can speak with them. State your sad feelings about the demise of the marriage and own any part you may have had. Talk about your love for them and hesitance to lose the relationship. Ask if there is a way to go forward. Many families continue to include ex’s in family functions.

You should sit down together and talk about all the friends, aquaintances and social connections you have. Many will work themselves out; his golfing or poker buddies, her girlfriends will be easy. Couple friends with whom you have socialized and traveled with will need to know it is okay to like both of you and invite both of you to functions. This will be easier if you don’t hold open animosity towards each other and treat each other with kindness and respect. The real problem comes when one of you begins to date and wants to bring your new paramour to parties to which you have been invited. There is a socially acceptable period of time that you need to wait before doing this. Your mother would say wait at least one year, modern day manners would probably give six months a nod of approval.

The Behavioral Divorce

After having been part of a couple for a number of years, the prospect of single life can be intimidating and overwhelming.  This can be especially difficult if you have been married 20 years or longer. There is a transition from the dependency of couple ship to the independence of singlehood.  You must learn how to do all the things your spouse previously took care of. If your spouse shopped and cooked all the meals, serviced the automobiles or paid all the bills, you will now have to learn how to do these tasks.  If you are a young father, you may have to learn how to give a princess party for 10 seven year olds for your daughter’s birthday. There is a lot to learn.

In addition to the parenting and other life tasks you may be called upon to master, there is the task of living alone. Loneliness comes in different time frames for all of us. Some begin to re-couple before the divorce is final, some soon after, and some need more healing time before seeking another partner. Humans naturally gravitate towards a committed relationship and statistics bear that out. Most people remarry within 3-5 years of a divorce, men sooner than women. After years of having your leisure time planned for you with kids activities or couple friends with whom you grilled out on Saturday nights, learning to be alone is not as daunting as you might imagine. You will cultivate single friends who have more freedom to travel or spontaneously go to the movies or out to dinner. Getting involved in new activities will help you meet more people. If your company has a bowling team, join even if you are not crazy about bowling. Learn to play golf, or take lessons to improve your game. Take a class, involve yourself in church activities, climb the Himalayas!

If you have children, you still have the obligation of making a home for them when it is your time to parent. That can be fulfilling and keep you busy and involved. A word of caution, find adult friends for you. The burden on children to be your companion, confidante and playmate is too great for any child, regardless of their age.  They should be able to e children, teenagers and young adults. They have many developmental tasks to accomplish for themselves, without feeling obligated to help you accomplish yours.

 

 

Next: The Community Divorce