NC divorced parents sharing child custody ‘confused and scared’ amid COVID-19, family lawyer says

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Parenting through a pandemic can be difficult for any couple.

It can be even more challenging for divorced couples who share custody and have different attitudes about social distancing and which safety guidelines to follow.

“In one house it is not a big deal. It is an over-exaggeration. In our house, we’re taking all the protective measures that have been recommended by doctors,” said one mom who asked to remain anonymous.

She’s taking protective measures because she has underlying health issues, but social distancing, and wearing masks isn’t being enforced when the children are with their other parent, she said.

She worried about potential custody issues if the children can’t stay with her.

“Parents are confused and scared,” said Stephanie Jenkins.

Jenkins, with Parker Bryan Family Law, has been practicing family law for 20 years.  She says parents need to put the health and safety of the entire family first, and thinks the court will be understanding.

“These are uncharted waters.  I don’t think a court is going to fault either parent for having taken primary custody of the children, or given primary custody of the children away during this pandemic.  I think they are going to say ‘OK, you did what you thought was in the best interest of your children during that short period of time’,” said Jenkins.

Therapist Tina Kinnan and founder of Simply Thrive Therapeutic Associates says the most important thing is for children to feel safe — and during this time she strongly suggests listening to the experts.

She says while ex-spouses may not see eye-to-eye on how to parent and tend to bicker about screen time or bedtime, now is the time to find a middle ground.

“Making sure you express it in a kind manner, but not just a laundry list of all of your worries can be very helpful,” Kinnan said.

Kinnan says whether you are married or divorced it’s important parents come to an agreement on what they are comfortable with, but do that without the children present.

“It’s important to have a conversation beforehand, before we get to these events, and before we get in front of our kids,” said Kinnan.  “Here’s what our value in our household is, that we are practicing social distancing.”

Jenkins also agrees parents should not talk about custody or other arrangements in front of the children, but have a conversation with them if they are old enough to understand.

“I would say ‘Hey, you understand this is a hard time with the virus. Go stay with dad.  Stay safe, and then we’ll figure it out when this is all gone’,” Jenkins said.

If a parent must spend significant time apart from their child, Kinnan recommends Facetiming or eating virtual dinners and playing games together as much as possible. 

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