Keeping in contact? The answer is in the 5 Ts
With one of the latest developments in the news focussing on school closures as part of the Covid-19 prevention measures, parents everywhere will be thinking about the arrangements for caring for the children. There is of course an added consideration for those parents who have separated: how to make this work with the other parent? Where there is an agreement or a court order in place about the time children spend with each parent, careful consideration will be needed as to how that forms part our new way of living at this time.
The government guidance in this area is changing daily, if not more frequently, and therefore conversations about what’s best for the children are likely to need to be ongoing, not just a one off decision.
At the time of preparing this blog, we’re being advised to take social distancing measures. Working from home is being encouraged and schools are closing from Friday. For any family, this will require some creative thinking in terms of juggling childcare, meeting work commitments and changing social plans. The situation is very likely to change, but hopefully keeping focussed on what you’re trying to achieve, but hopefully the points below will help to start a productive conversation between parents.
The 5 Ts
- Transition: For a lot of separated parents, school becomes a handover point, with one parent dropping their child(ren) off in the morning and the other parent collecting. With schools closing, this routine will need to change. When looking for a way forward, it’s perhaps helpful to think about why school has become the handover point. If it’s just for convenience, then explore other warm, safe environments nearby. If it’s to avoid having to come into contact with the other parent then you may need to think a little further. Has your relationship changed since the care arrangements started so that handover directly between you is no longer the confrontational experience it once was? If you are concerned about your children being exposed to adult conflict then you may want to look at handover venues which are public. At this time, there may also still be the option for a third party to step in to assist.
- Timing: With the children’s school routine out of the window, the point at which the children move from the care of one parent to the other may not need to be as fixed. Would changing the drop off / collection time by an hour one way or the other help one parent to fulfil work commitments, particularly if they work in the NHS or if they are self-employed an concerned about their income.
- Travel: We have already seen restrictions put in place for international travel and sadly we are all too aware of how this has impacted on a number of our clients in terms of them not being able to spend time with their children until the restrictions are lifted. Many parents will want to avoid public transport at this time; and if one parent is reliant on the train / bus to facilitate contact then this may be a situation where the parent with the car is asked to take on a greater responsibility for travel than usual. As things stand, we do not know whether any travel within the UK will be restricted and if so to within what area. If such measures are introduced, then careful consideration will need to be given as to whether collecting / dropping off the children would meet any definition of essential travel (notwithstanding how strongly a parent will feel about wanting to see their children).
- Temperature: This is one of the most reported symptoms and measures associated with Covid-19. The current guidance is that self-isolation is needed for whole households even where only one person experiences symptoms. This will undoubtedly have an impact on the care arrangements. With the lack of testing which is taking place at the moment, unfortunately there is no way to confirm a diagnosis and therefore whether a period of self-isolation is require or not will come down to that thing which is often most damaged during relationship breakdown: trust. The health and wellbeing of the children should always come first and we would encourage all parents to be genuine and fair in their assessment of the current guidelines and restrictions.
- Technology: If the situation evolves to one where the children cannot spend face to face time with one parent, then you may need to rely on technology to bridge that gap. There are a number of programmes and apps available to help children to see the other parent via video calling – and for older children there may also be opportunities for text messaging. If you’re struggling to coordinate timings, then there may be options to record videos – the parent reading a bedtime story or even telling a short joke; the children being filmed doing a dance routine or scoring a goal. Not all methods of communication have to rely on technology. If you can face the mayhem of the craft box, you could give the children the opportunity to make something for the other parent. Consideration will need to be given as to how / when to send it to anything which is made, but it’s a way to enable the children to maintain a connection with the other parent. And depending on the level of supervision needed, it may give you a chance to send a couple of work emails / load the dishwasher in peace!
There will be a wide range of experiences between separated parents as to how easy or hard is it to adapt and be flexible. We would hope that given how unique the situation is, parents can find a way to distance themselves from any previous issues and look to find a way forward which works for them, and most importantly their children. If you do need any advice on how you can make arrangements work, then please get in touch.