Good co-parenting relationships and communication are always key to raising healthy, happy, and well-adjusted children. This applies to all parents, not just parents that live in separate households. These coming weeks and months are sure to try everyone’s patience.
Please remember that parenting time is about your children’s time with their parents. It is not Mom’s time or Dad’s time. It is your kids’ time. Please act accordingly.
The AFCC Guidelines advise that parenting time continue as normal and as if school was in session. Applying these AFCC Guidelines in Indiana means that parenting time would continue as ordered as if school were in session. This means that regular parenting time under your order should be followed. Holiday parenting time under your order supersedes regular parenting time.
In the past few days, I have received many questions about what should happen with parenting time. Below are the common questions that I have encountered and my recommendations in response to each question. These recommendations are based on the assumption that your children are not:
- been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
- showing known symptoms of COVID-19 and are reasonably assumed to have contracted COVID-19.
The health of your children always comes first. If your child is at risk then both parents should contact the child’s doctor and follow all recommendations made by the child’s doctor and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
Ultimately, there is no precedent for a situation like this one, so unless the court that has jurisdiction over your case issues a special order, your most recent court order remains in place.
The Courts in Lake and Porter County are reducing their dockets to hear only emergency and time-sensitive matters for family law cases. This means that many of you that had a hearing scheduled have had your hearings continued until May, June, or July. Disputes over parenting time schedules will not be considered an emergency by our family law courts. Emergencies are based upon the safety of the children.
What About Spring Break?
Many schools were scheduled for Spring Break in the coming weeks, the parent with the holiday time for Spring Break, should still have the kids for Spring Break. Vacations and unnecessary travel should be canceled and replaced with family time at home for the safety of your children, yourself, and the community as a whole.
Should Parenting Time Happen when Distance Is a Factor?
If it is possible to make parenting time happen, it should happen. Flights may be canceled or delayed. If flights are available and proper precautions are taken, then children should make their scheduled flights for parenting time. Teach your child about social distancing and remind them to wash their hands frequently and to not touch their faces. If exchanges are made via car, then the exchanges should take place as they have in the past.
How Does Shelter in Place, Self-Quarantine, and Social Distancing Affect Parenting Time?
None of the currently proposed guidelines or State issued orders regarding these safety measures affect the exchange of children to facilitate parenting time. People are encouraged to stay at home, keep physical distance between themselves and people that do not live with them. Travel within the United States has not been restricted as of this time. Keep a calm head and use common sense. If you can drive to the grocery store, you can drive to exchange the children for parenting time.
Should We Just Start the Summer Schedule Now?
For some families, this may be beneficial. If you have a parenting time plan that allots equal or substantially equal parenting time for both parents, then week on / week off parenting time may be beneficial for your family. It would decrease the exchanges to one time per week.
For some families, this may not be feasible due to work schedules.
If you and your co-parent can agree on a schedule that is best for your children and your families, please use that schedule.
If you cannot agree on a schedule, then your order is controlling and should be followed.
Most of The Parenting Time Exchanges Take Place at School; Does My Parenting Time Start at The Beginning of The School Day or At the End of The School Day?
Many parents pick their children up at the end of the school day or from after school care to start their parenting time. If your order does not specify what to do when school is not in session or specific times for exchanges, let your children sleep in if possible. Pick a time that is convenient for both parents on all exchange days and stick with it as much as you can.
If your children need adult supervision at all times, then work with your co-parent to ensure that a responsible and appropriate adult is caring for them while parents are working.
If your children do not need adult supervision at all times (i.e. teenagers), then let the other parent know that they may be home for a few hours alone.
Studies have shown through the past decades that as children develop into their teen years they do better with later start times. Don’t make your children wake up early to prove a point or win an argument.
If you cannot come to an agreement, I recommend that parenting time exchanges take place on the days and times that the parent would have retrieved the children from school (if multiple dismissal times, then the earliest dismissal time that the parent would have normally picked the children up from).
What if I Don’t Get My Full Parenting Time?
Make-up parenting time should be coordinated as soon as reasonably and safely possible.
Should I Call the Police to Enforce My Parenting Time?
NO!!! The police should not be used to enforce parenting time. The police should be used in emergencies when a child or children are at imminent risk of physical danger. It is not healthy or normal for your children to see their parents fight and involve the police. Children will become wary of the police and start to fear their presence. Your time with your children is not more important than their long-term mental, emotional, and physical safety.
Should I Make Sure My Children Are with Me in Case There Is a Quarantine or Martial Law Is Imposed?
No. Parenting time should continue as normal. If this pandemic were to reach a situation where Martial Law were to be imposed, your children are safe with their other parent. Rushing to pick your kids up early in case you can’t get to them later is about your desire to be with your children, not about the safety of your children. It is understandable to be worried about your children and want them close to you in a time of crisis. Your co-parent feels the same way. Doing this shows your children that you do not trust their other parent to keep them safe and that they should not trust their other parent to keep them safe. That said, it is highly unlikely that Martial Law will be imposed. Again, if you can go to the grocery store, you can go out to exchange your children for parenting time.
Please remember who is most important if any of these situations arise and act with your children’s best interest in mind.
I Can’t Co-Parent Because My Ex Just Won’t Agree to Anything?
Unfortunately, this may have been a problem long before COVID-19. If parents cannot come together to communicate rationally and make joint decisions to benefit their children during a pandemic, then they need to seek help learning co-parenting skills. I suggest that if you have not utilized the resources below, you do so now. If you would like to discuss having the court order you and your co-parent to co-parenting education, co-parenting counseling, or appointing a Parenting Time Coordinator, please reach out to our office, or lawyer of your choice to discuss the proper steps needed to get the necessary services in place.
Divorce Recovery Center at New Vista Behavior Health
Offers High Conflict Co-Parenting Education and Co-Parenting Counseling
Schuller & LeBlanc Alternative Dispute Resolution
Offers Parenting Time Coordination
This is the book used in the High Conflict Co-Parenting Education Class
I hope that these guidelines and responses to the questions posed have been helpful. As always, your children’s best interests come first. Please stay calm and work together during these difficult times.