SYTSMA: Be flexible with parenting time during pandemic
Nearly six months has passed since life as we know it drastically changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All of us were impacted. Our lives now include face masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing and virtual appointments. Many parents have changed or lost employment, moved work locations or changed the way their job is done.
Our children finished the last school year remotely, and will begin this school year in a virtual program, an in-person program or a hybrid program. Many parents and children have experienced feelings of stress and anxiety because of the changes and uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parents that live in separate households can help ease their children’s anxiety by being flexible in their co-parenting. While your current custody and parenting time orders remain in effect during the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents have experienced schedule changes that create difficulties with the court-ordered schedule. Parents can always agree to work together to modify the parenting time schedule in order to prioritize the children’s best interests.
There are many components to flexibility within a co-parenting relationship. It is extremely important for parents to communicate with each other. Parents that communicate about their children and their schedule changes are better able to work together to develop flexibility within the parenting time schedule. That communication can occur in person, by phone, text message or email. Communication should be directly between parents, without using the children as a go-between. Regardless of how you feel about the other parent, be kind, courteous and understanding in your communication, especially in front of your children.
Another critical component of flexibility is compromise — there will be work schedule changes, vacations or special family events in both parents’ families that do not always line up with your parenting time schedule. Compromise requires some level of trust that the other parent will give you the courtesy of flexibility when you need it. However, the benefits of compromise are far greater — it may mean your children can attend a family reunion that they otherwise could not attend, or that your normal Wednesday evening parenting time was moved to Tuesday to accommodate a work schedule change. Either way, compromise shows children that you support each other as parents and prioritize the children’s needs.
A third component to flexibility is creativity. Especially during these uncertain times, parents may need to come up with alternative parenting time arrangements. If a child cannot be in one parent’s home for any reason, parenting time could be exercised virtually using apps such as FaceTime or Zoom; outdoors at a park or indoors at a library, restaurant or elsewhere.
The closure of some public places will require parents to be creative when looking for activities to do with their children. If parenting time cannot occur at all, parents may be creative in developing a schedule for make-up parenting time. Parents may wish to list the agreed-upon modification in writing.
As a referee, I have seen many cases where children have benefited from their parents’ flexibility. During recent court hearings, several parents have stated that once their children’s school closed last spring, they came up with an agreed-upon alternate parenting time arrangement that benefited the children and the parents.
Custodial and non-custodial parents both reported feeling satisfied that they were able to work with their co-parent. Non-custodial parents were happy about spending additional time with their children and helping with their remote learning. In some cases, the modified schedule worked so well that the parents decided to formalize it in a new court order.
Flexibility in a co-parenting relationship takes two parents that are willing to communicate, compromise and be creative. It requires a good-faith effort by both parents, along with understanding, kindness and respect. A flexible co-parenting relationship is not for everyone, and that is why there is a parenting time schedule set forth for parents to follow in every court order. The FOC encourages parents to develop a flexible co-parenting relationship when possible, because it can be very beneficial for both parents and children.
If you have questions about the FOC that you think would be helpful to address in future columns, please send them to the FOC email address: email@example.com.
Melissa Sytsma is the Cass County Friend of the Court attorney referee.
I am addressing this to the superintendent as well as the Lewis Cass Board of Education as “food for thought.”... read more