May 19, 2020

Work-arounds for co-parenting couples during the "new normal."

“I’m not going to lie; it’s been really stressful. Underlying issues in our relationship are still there – the things we used to clash about are still there. We’re finding work-arounds as best we can,” says local mom Ashley*. 

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Ashley, recently divorced and co-parent of a 1st-grade daughter, talked about how she and her ex-husband are balancing parental roles from separate households while New Orleans is under mandated stay-at-home orders.

Many parents today – divorced or not – are in the same boat as this family unit; she was laid off from her job and he is a small business owner endeavoring to get financing, re-hire employees, and re-open his business as quickly as possible.  

Co-parenting with a divorced or separated spouse or partner can be trying in the best of times, with schools in session, regular work schedules, and juggling set custody and visitation calendars. But now, with so much up in the air – parents working from home or laid off, children taking online classes, and no extra-curricular activities, playdates or extended family visits – relationships that might have been tenuous at best are strained beyond measure. 

The “new normal” for Ashley and her ex meant throwing out the usual visitation schedule. “Honestly, I told him that for both our sanities neither of us can be with her for longer than 3 or 4 days max, especially due to the stress of home schooling alone, most of which has fallen to me. Since she’s an only child, the oversight is constant – keeping her focused on schoolwork, devising creative projects, and then not letting her feel lonely without her friends – it’s just a lot. And of course, emotionally draining.” 

Ashley has 2 key bits of advice for fellow co-parents: 

Adaptability. “That’s the key and my one-word greatest advice to other co-parents in getting through these times. If you can’t adapt to each other’s needs right now, then this isn’t going to work.” 

Work on your communication. “Honestly, we’re communicating better now than we have in years, we’ve really made the effort. When this is over, our daughter will have seen us working together for the best results, and I’m hoping to keep that up.” 

The experts back up what Ashley’s learned the hard way. 

Here are some additional tips (but not legal advice) from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.  

Use your highest level of communication skills. This is not the time to re-litigate old disagreements with your ex. For the sake of your children during this crisis, make every effort to settle disputes with your co-parent related to exposure to the virus, symptoms, financial and other changes in both your circumstances, with all the civility and reasonableness you can muster.”  

Be honest. Be completely transparent with your ex about any possible exposure of your child or a family member to the virus, and certainly about any symptoms your child may exhibit. 

Arrange to make up for lost time. If your ex is not able to see the children as much as is customary, be generous in arranging for the children to have more time with your co-parent later, when the crisis is over. If you put your revised agreements in writing and stick to them, a judge is likely to appreciate accommodations that have been made by both of you when court orders could not be followed. 

Of course, couples are finding ways through “new normal” that best suit their own situations. And the stay-at-home rules will be lifted one day -  hopefully soon. But by making a special effort to adapt and communicate honestly and openly will go a long way to reducing stress now and laying the groundwork for better relations in the future.

*Name changed for anonymity.


Trevor Wisdom is the Managing Editor or nola family magazine and her sister publication, nola boomers magazine

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