May 2020

Sharing care of your children during lockdown if you are divorced or separated

The Government has stated that children under the age of 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes, where their parents do not live together in the same household. When leaving your home to take children to contact you must, of course, follow the rules to socially distance yourself from others by keeping 2 metres apart from those from out with your household and minimise the time spent out of your home.

Travel for contact, and contact itself, is subject to the caveats that if you, or anyone else in your household, have the symptoms of Covid-19, then you and your entire household should follow the rules on self-isolationand stay at home for the required period. In addition, those who have underlying health conditions or who are vulnerable should also make sure that they follow the rules on shielding.

Every family will be facing big challenges right now, with Scotland and the rest of the UK in lockdown. If you are separated or divorced from your child’s other parent, these challenges may feel even bigger with some contact not taking place for a variety of legitimate reasons. Here are our tips on how to manage these challenges:

  1. Focus on what’s best for your children:
    Many are trying to balance work and looking after their children which will inevitably mean a change to your usual routines between you and your ex. It is natural to feel anxious or overwhelmed at the thought of trying to make these arrangements with your ex. Your children might also be unsettled about not going to school and seeing their friends. Changes to when and how often they see their other parent may also be difficult for them to accept.
    It can help to talk over your ideas about arrangements and any worries or concerns you have about changes with another trusted adult, before you talk to your ex. Our family consultants can help you explore ideas and understand what might upset you, so you can stay calm when you talk to your child’s other parent.
  2. Focus on what’s happening now:
    If you and your ex are in the middle of trying to resolve issues like finance, contact or if either of you feel hurt or angry about past issues, working together to do the best for your children while facing the challenges and anxiety caused by coronavirus may be really hard. Our family consultants can help you to concentrate on what you can control right now. Try to put aside your bigger differences and focus on what you need to do now to manage through this period as best as you all can.
  3. Agree the approach for telling your children:
    Once you and your ex have explored what changes you need to make to contact during the lockdown, talk to your children about what is happening and why. It’s worth agreeing with your ex who should explain what’s happening – should it be one or both of you, in person, over the phone or via video-call. Agree beforehand how you will answer questions your children will have and make sure that you and your ex give them the same messages.
  4. Talk to your children about what’s happening and why:
    For older children, you may want to involve them in some of the decisions about changes to contact. Make sure that you’re clear with them about what is possible and what isn’t possible right now to keep everybody safe.
    Younger children will find it harder to understand why we need to make such big changes to our daily lives. Calmly explain to them what needs to happen now for your family and that this is to keep everybody safe. This video might also help explain what the virus is all about.
    Make sure they know that the new arrangements won’t last forever. Reassure them that when the Government says it is safe to do so, you will go back to the arrangements you had before.
  5. Find ways to keep in touch:
    At this anxious time, it is more important than ever for your children to stay connected with both parents. If your own circumstances mean that your children are seeing less of their other parent than usual, find other ways to keep in touch. Even if the amount of time your children see both parents is the same, they might want to be in touch more with the parent they aren’t at home with. Video calls and talking on the phone can be great for sharing parts of your children's day with everyone and can help everyone feel connected. Or have film nights where you all watch the same film and comment on messaging apps or by phone. Young children might enjoy parents reading stories at bedtime or at a set time each day using video calls.
  6. Remember what is important:
    You’re likely to have more challenges if you’re on your own with your children, during the lockdown as you may not have access to your usual help or support network. The thought of trying to work and do lots of school activities with your children may feel almost impossible. Remember there is lots available online for them learn about while the schools are shut and older children will be able to do a lot of their study themselves.
    The most important thing right now is that your children feel loved, calm and safe. Nobody expects you to be a teacher and younger children can catch up on school work later. Don’t try and keep up with what everybody else is doing, do what works for you and your family. Be realistic about what you can or can’t manage. If you are working, talk to your manager about your situation and their expectations during this period.
  7. Look after yourself:
    It’s more important than ever to look after yourself during this difficult time. You need to make space for rest, exercise and to keep in touch with your friends and family, to stay strong and look after your own wellbeing. You can read more about how to maintain your mental health and wellbeing during divorce or separation here.
  8. Managing disagreements around access:
    Cooperation is not always possible and parents can struggle to agree arrangements with each other. That will obviously cause some disappointment for non-resident parents and children. Hearing disputes and arguments over child access can leave them feeling confused, upset and worried. Be mindful about what they can hear when you're talking with their other parent. Try to work together for the benefit of their children – it’s important that children feel safe and secure. If contact can safely take place in accordance with Government rules, then it should.
  9. Separation, illness and self-isolation:
    It might be difficult to keep to your agreed patterns and routine if someone is sick. If this happens then communication needs to be clear and honest from parents to children. Your child might feel they are missing out on time with each of their parents and it may be helpful to agree they could have more time in the future after lockdown ends.

Above all, be sensible and understanding and take care of yourself and each other. If you’re feeling anxious or concerned about your divorce or separation, contact one of our Family Consultants to find out how they can help.

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