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Social distancing and Co-parenting: What to do if your Co-parent refuses to obey social distancing orders

In the beginning of this pandemic, when stay at home orders were in place it was much easier to keep tabs on your child and their physical movement. For the most part, we were all stuck at home and social distancing was not much of a problem period our kids were not going to the grocery store and they were not going to see their friends. However, now that stay at home orders have largely been lifted it is become more important to discuss how parents who live in separate households can manage to keep their children safe during this time. 

Co-parenting is extremely important during times like this. The health and safety of our children and ourselves is at stake right now and while I do not want to overstate the risks of the coronavirus it is something to keep in mind. whereas before we had all counties in our area in lockstep with one another in terms of stay at home, stay safe now leaders have identified that certain areas in certain people are at greater risk than others. As a result, there are varying degrees of stay at home orders that are in place for families in our area. 

Many times, I will have parents come to me as their divorce or child custody is nearing a close and ask for advice on Co-parenting. I think this is smart and largely necessary. After all, you have just spent months separating yourself from the other parent to your child and you're now left with having to rebuild that relationship at least when it comes to working together to raise your child as a team. In normal times this basically means coordinating pick up and drop off times and working together to make sure your child's schoolwork is done. However, we find ourselves in abnormal times where there are somewhat greater health risks to your children. 

Coordinating in regard to the health of your child may become more difficult during this time of uncertainty. I think that for many people, this situation is completely overwhelmed them and left them with a feeling of unease because they have no idea how to act in the face of the virus. What I can recommend to you is to use common sense, good communication skills and patience when working with your Co parent and raising your child during the era of COVID-19

However, there is a chance that your Co parent may not be willing to adhere to the social distancing recommendations made by government officials and infectious disease experts. None of the recommendations made by government officials right now have a lot of data behind them. Nobody truly knows what is best for eliminating or at least decreasing the prevalence of this virus in our lives. It does seem that social distancing has its benefits and since it is being promoted far and wide by governments, I think it is at least worth taking a look at for today's blog post. 

What happens now that you and your Co parent are heading back to work? 

Now that they stay at home orders have been lifted it is likely that your work is either asking you to return to your physical work location or is planning on doing so soon. Again, it was easier to coordinate on the status of your children with your Co parent while everyone was stuck in the same situation at home period now that you may be at home and your Co parent baby back in the workplace your schedules are not lining up as easily. This is where clear and consistent communication regarding issues related to your children is extremely important. 

You and your co-parent need to be able to communicate with one another about how childcare will be handled during this time. From my wife and I, our kids are already back at the same Montessori school where they attended prior to the COVID-19 virus outbreak. We feel very comfortable about this measures they take to keep kids safe and assess the risk for our children being fairly low as far as getting the virus or even showing symptoms. However, you may have a different opinion as to the risk levels that you can tolerate in regard to your children come into contact with other people right now. That is your choice to make but, you need to communicate your feelings and thoughts to your ex-spouse. 

From my perspective, communicating concern over the health of your children is a normal thing for a parent to do. However if you know going into the situation that you're Co parent is not of the same mind as you are it is wise to come prepared with objective, factual information that you can at least show him or her that you are not reacting solely with emotion to the situation. Rather, you have given your position a great deal of thought and are basing your concerns on available material as far as the likelihood of risk for your child. 

You and your other parent will need to determine whether or not your child will attend school or daycare this summer and whether or not a full day at school will be best for your family. If your children are with you during the summer months and you have to work would you prefer your Co parent to care for your children during that time rather than another person to enter the home and care for the kids? Are you able to trust that a nanny or caretaker for the kids will be social distancing as well and minimizing contact with other people? 

This is not something that you should keep a secret from your ex-spouse until your frustration, fear or concern boil over and create a bad situation for you and your family. I would recommend that you and your Co parent talk about these problems as soon as you are able and decide on a shared path towards summer visitation and possession. From what we have seen situations can change regarding the virus fairly quickly. Your child's school for the summer may change its policies or safety precautions to account for increased risk. It will be wise to make your Co parent aware of any changes and to make sure that he or she does the same with you. 

I think generally speaking in situations like this that the more information you have the better decisions you can make. Keeping up to date with your child's school is a smart and reasonable step to take. This is where you and your Co parent having different opinions on social distancing may create some degree of problems when it comes to working together. You should talk with your ex-spouse about why he or she feels the way that they do and what middle ground can be reached. 

Make known to your Co parent any concerns you have regarding social distancing 

The subject of social distancing and masks for children is one that was becoming more commonplace as our state began to reopen. I've read about various government recommendations regarding whether or not children of a certain age should be wearing masks or not. Certain places seem to require all people to wear masks while others have very few requirements. I think it is reasonable to expect that this will continue and that you will have to use your best judgment when deciding whether or not to allow your child to be put in a situation where he or she is exposed to or not exposed to persons who may have the virus. 

Eliminating risk is not realistic. However, coordinating with your Co parent about how to implement reasonable degrees of social distancing is. If your Co parent does not agree with social distancing, then you have a decision to make. I don't believe that you would be within your rights to withhold visitation from him or her due to concerns about social distancing. There likely is no order in your child's custody agreement that states that you may withhold the child if you have very strong concerns over the health and cleanliness practices of your Co parent. 

It is not a new phenomenon for parents to be concerned about who their Co parent is exposing their child to while here she is in their possession. Family law attorneys hear about the former spouse of an ex client who takes their child places or introduces their children to people that the ex-client would rather never come into contact with their child. The degree of control that you have over an ex-spouse or Co parent is fairly limited. While the health and safety of your child is paramount to you, your Co parent and a judge in your family law case there is only so far that an order can go as far as dictating what your Co parent can and cannot do. 

Ultimately it is your child who is caught in the middle have any disagreements that you and your Co parent may have over social distancing. A child would prefer to have some degree of consistency in this regard or in any other. Your child may observe you practicing very strict social distancing while when he is with his mother she may not be as strict or even observed social distancing norms. 

Imagine your child who may be made to feel guilty about going out and socializing with your Co parent after you take a great deal of pain to keep him or her at home away from other people right now. What she wants to avoid is a situation where your child feels uneasy about spending time with either parent. If you are the parent who is in favor of very strict social distancing, you may also want to avoid a situation where your child is overly fearful of ever coming into contact with another person. Again, there is risk inherent and being around people right now. However, the risk should not be overstated, and you can do your own research into the prevalence of virus and the risk of serious illness or death among young children. 

What options do you have as courts begin to open in Southeast Texas? 

As we are beginning to see courts slowly emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic it is possible that disputes such as these regarding social distancing may be dealt with utilizing but a hearing. It is still likely that any response from a court will be delayed as these courts attempt to catch up on matters that were cancelled or postponed due to the first two or three months of the courts being closed. In your County, you should look to the advice of your attorney and guidance from the courts as to whether or not it is realistic to expect the courts to reopen during this time. If you are curious about what your court is doing right now in terms of being open or closed, you can even check the County website. This is a great source of information and can provide guidance to you and your attorney about whether or not you should attempt to work out problems regarding social distancing directly with your ex-spouse or whether judicial intervention is a better option at this stage. 

It is not always necessary to involve the courts when you and your Co parent are having disputes or disagreements on subjects. This is true even if the disagreement is over something as important as social distancing. Virtual mediation is an option that many parents have chosen during the pandemic. You may be able to create a temporary order that can satisfy both you and your Co parent during this time rather than exposing yourselves to the risk of illness in the certainty of financial expenditure by attending court dates regarding this matter. 

Questions about Co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

if you have any questions about the material that we shared with you today please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, via video and over the phone. These consultations are a great opportunity to learn more about your circumstances, Texas family law and the services that our office provides to clients. 

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