Socially Distant Co-Parenting


Isn’t that a loaded title in this unprecedented time of the coronavirus pandemic? Lots of parents are socially distant following divorce, but figuring out how to maneuver in the waves of social distance rules and shelter in place orders can be especially difficult for divorced parents moving children back and forth between homes on their “normal” parenting time schedule. There are lessons to be learned in this unusual time, and ones you can take with you long after its gone.

Be Flexible with your Parenting Time Schedule

In Texas, the State Supreme Court has issued a statewide order holding that all parenting time (custody) schedules based on school schedules shall follow the originally published school schedules for the school year. Divorced parents must still send their children back and forth between their two households on those schedules. Safety dictates that you should treat your two homes as one to minimize exposure to the virus for both your children and you. (Look at Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. They decided to actually go back to living in one home during this pandemic.) However, also keep in mind that almost all (if not all) divorce decrees with parenting schedules in Texas have a provision that says all time with the children shall first be by agreement of the parties, then you have what might be called the “fallback schedule” in case there is no agreement. In other words, you can change the schedule at any time as long as you both agree. So if circumstances call for it, be flexible and make the changes you need to make for your children. Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about them.

Be Kind to Your Co-Parenting Partner

This one seems so simple, but it doesn’t always feel that way practice. And this one is true whether you are married and living in the same household or divorced and living apart. Our children see…and watch…and model…the behavior we show towards the other parent. Ask yourself what kind of child you want to raise. Do you want to raise a resentful, bitter, angry child? Or would you rather raise one that is kind, understanding, and forgiving?

Another important point to remember is that children see themselves as being made up of 50% of each parent. So when your child sees you disparaging or belittling the other parent, your child feels that criticism personally. And while you may not be able to control the behavior of your co-parent launching attacks at you, you can control your own behavior by not launching a counter-attack. Find ways to disarm the negativity with kindness. Your children will learn an invaluable lesson from how you handle yourself in the storm.

Be Kind to Yourself

This one is often the hardest piece of advice to implement. Being divorced and away from your children is hard enough on its own, but when you add in the stresses of “sheltering in place” and fear of someone you love getting sick, the pressures become a much heavier burden. When your children are with the other parent, make it a point to not sit and stew in negative emotion. Make your own “shelter in place” bucket list and start tackling it. Exercise is always a great option. Universities and celebrities are offering unique on line class opportunities. And most importantly, stay connected with your friends. I see too many people following divorce lose touch with their friends; sometimes out of shame that they divorced, or maybe fear that their ex-spouse “won” that friend in the split, or just because. There is no better time than now to reconnect with those people.

Rhonda Cleaves is a Divorce Attorney in Plano, Texas. She focuses her practice on Collaborative Divorce, representing clients in Collin, Dallas, Denton, Tarrant, and Rockwall counties.

Rhonda Cleaves

Rhonda began practicing law in 1995. She left a successful civil trial practice in 2005 to concentrate on family law — specifically, helping families transition to postdivorce life. She now practices exclusively in this area.

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