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Coping with COVID-19 Co-Parenting Challenges

You have more power than you think when your ex insists on breaking bad.

Luis Galvez/Unsplash
Source: Luis Galvez/Unsplash

“Please help! My ex demands that my husband and his kids are tested for coronavirus before he’ll allow our children to return to my custody…”

As the writer of the Forget Co-Parenting With a Narcissist series I am no stranger to co-parenting controversy. And this is one of the common emails I’ve received during the past two months since the pandemic's shelter-in-place order went into effect.

Before we dive into the tips to cope with co-parenting during COVID-19, let me acknowledge that many of my co-parenting therapy and consultation clients are making the best of this new norm. For the most part, this looks like setting aside differences and putting the kids’ health and emotional well-being first.

For the other side of the COVID-19 camp, there are challenges, and workarounds. The goal is help you experience less stress and more inner peace. And if there’s one thing we all need now, it’s a healthy immune system.

Caveat: The following information is based on composite client examples and intended as psychoeducation only. Exercise your due diligence when considering medical and legal actions unique to your family and your court order and custody situation.

1. Co-Parenting Challenge: Your ex refuses to grant access to your child(ren) until you or your spouse or partner, or other kids in the home, or other family members in the home, or the family dog (I wish I was kidding) are tested for the coronavirus. This shouldn’t be as tough as it seems. Sure, there's a lot of uncertainty, largely due to a lack of testing kits and that some infected people are asymptomatic. Let’s focus on what we do know. Doctors' offices, clinics, and hospitals are stretched and stressed to capacity, and many of our frontline workers cannot get tested, as a result. Sadly, demanding you override the medical community and disregard the added stress to them and their families, makes perfect sense. Label this one a new level of breaking bad, and move forward.

Co-Parenting Workaround: For example, “I understand your concern about COVID-19 and I called the family doctor. Based on the description of our daughter (or whoever s/he believes may be infected) and her lack of symptoms, I was told she does not meet the criteria for testing. Therefore, I expect you to bring her to my home during the next custodial exchange. I am as concerned as any parent; however, denying our children access to either parent is not warranted. Rest assured, I will continue to follow all safety guidelines, until further notice.”

2. Co-Parenting Challenge: Your ex is stressed about his/her decreased income and sends threatening emails demanding to change the custody order and/or reduce child support. Defer to your local courthouse regarding COVID-19 information, as courts in most states are handling matters on a case-by-case, judge-by-judge basis. Many courts are closed or operating under limited capacity. Non-emergent matters may or may not be heard, but it would seem that once courts are fully opened, high-risk cases will be prioritized. If in doubt, contact your court’s family service department, their website’s FAQ, or a family law attorney if you don’t already have legal representation.

For example, the following information is found on the webpage for California Courts: Emergency Court Actions and COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

“California’s Governor issued “stay-at-home” orders in March 2020, to protect the public health of Californians and reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The orders are not intended to stop parents from leaving their homes with the child or stop them from following the court order for parenting time. In fact, many “stay-at-home” orders allow people to leave home to provide care for children, elderly parents, or friends who need help. Also, some counties have specifically defined “essential travel” to include travel for custody arrangements and following court orders.”

Co-Parenting Workaround: For example, “I contacted the courthouse regarding your requests for a modification of the custody order and child support. I was told they are not accepting new filings until (insert) date, if known. In the meantime, I am not willing to make a decision until the shelter-in-place orders have been lifted and we have more information regarding public safety.”

3. Co-Parenting Challenge: Your ex refuses to follow the court order and the feedback from attorneys and therapists (not all clinicians are uniquely qualified and trained to treat high-conflict divorce and contentious co-parenting relationships) and information online isn't helping. For example, “It’s important to rise above and not create more stress during this time,” or “Children need schedules and consistency. Take a step back and create a temporary plan with your co-parent.”

Co-Parenting Workaround: Pretty much coming up empty on this one. Unless a professional or staff writer has expertise within the minefield known as toxic co-parenting, their advice (though well-intentioned) can end up making you feel more frustrated and hopeless. It’s akin to me advising my anxious clients to “Just calm down.” Alas, there are steps you can take to put space and distance between your ex’s demands and your ability to respond with mindfulness and intention, instead. You have control over your reactions, which includes employing common sense and the fact that s/he is likely resorting to the same bullying and scare tactics, pre-COVID-19.

As bad as the Coronavirus is, it's essential to triage stressful situations, including where you expend your emotional and physical energies. The good news is studies of divorce show that children need the unconditional love and support from just one parent in order to thrive. And that's you.

For additional co-parenting support, click this link for my bio.

Copyright 2020 Linda Esposito, LCSW. All Rights Reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author.


Here are some resources which can help:

Forget Co-Parenting With a Narcissist. Do This Instead. (You’ve likely read this one, but there's a reason it's been viewed over 1.5 million times) 19 Ways to Support Your Mental Health During COVID-19 17 Things to Curb Your Anxiety Which Don’t Involve Therapy Boundaries: A Guide to Making Essential Life Decisions
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