Where will your child spend Christmas? Plan now if divorced or separated, experts suggest

A divorce or separation can be difficult for kids and new co-parents. From coordinating parenting schedules to dealing with mixed emotions, families face challenges that have only been further complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.


Many kids are learning at home instead of going to school, putting more pressure on parents to juggle work schedules and home life. Job circumstances may have also changed, and outside child care may be limited.


During this unprecedented situation, divorced and separated parents who are unsure of how to manage social-distancing measures for their children may have even taken parenting matters into their own hands and withheld contact from other family members, potentially resulting in conflict.


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With the holidays approaching, along with the prospect of more waves of the new coronavirus, now is the time to be proactive about revisiting parenting arrangements to minimize both family conflict and health risks, according to lawyers who specialize in family law.


In partnership with CBM Lawyers, we look at some things co-parents should consider before the holiday season.


Increase communication


Parents who have concerns but are unwilling to address them and, as a result, make decisions unilaterally are a big issue, says Julia Tchezganova, an associate at CBM Lawyers with a focus on family law.


This lack of communication can spiral out and create a heated and more challenging situation. “Try to talk to the other parent if possible,” Tchezganova advises.


READ MORE: Co-parenting in the COVID-19 crisis


Revisit your parenting agreement or order — now


Parents should look at what’s governing their parenting arrangements, such as an agreement or order, and assess whether it still applies in their current situation.

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A parent who is an essential worker, for example, might need to reassess because their workload has increased or they’re unable to physically distance themselves due to their work environment.


If parenting arrangements need to be changed, it should be addressed right away.


“The court is often inundated with family law matters in the months of November and December,” says Doug Simpson, a partner at CBM Lawyers who specializes in family law. “With the overlay of the impact of COVID on top of that, and the difficulties of sometimes actually getting a hearing, it’s an added challenge.”


READ MORE: Divorces have increased during the coronavirus pandemic and lawyers are expecting more


Consider getting legal help


While some divorced or separated parents are able to cooperate well in their co-parenting and make reasonable adjustments spontaneously, others may need more help. In those cases, Simpson recommends asking a lawyer about mediation first.

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“What parents are encouraged to do is to really resolve as much of it outside of the court system as they can,” he says.


Parents may have missed parts of the parenting agreement, such as mandates about emergency parenting time or dispute resolution. A lawyer can help interpret the agreement or order if there’s an issue, reach out to the other party to see if there can be a resolution and advise co-parents on how to communicate, Tchezganova says.


In other cases, a lawyer can help parents resolve conflicts in court. “Worst-case scenario is if you’ve got somebody who is completely incapable of having that kind of civil discussion and putting the best interest of the children front and centre, or is perhaps exploiting the situation to their advantage. Then you probably have to retain a lawyer and deal with it quite proactively in court,” Simpson says.


Each family situation is different, however, and a lawyer can assess the proper legal course of action based on the unique circumstances of the case.


Remember that arrangements are not permanent


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Making new arrangements now does not mean those arrangements are fixed. After all, circumstances change all the time, whether due to a global pandemic, recession, or simply the kids’ getting older and not needing the same parenting schedule. These material changes can be examined as needed.


Keep children top of mind


Arrangements may not be perfect, but parents have to do what’s in the best interest of the children, Tchezganova says.


“I think now more than ever you can’t pay lip service to it, you actually have to mean it,” Simpson says. He recommends paying scrupulous attention to the health directives from provincial authorities and approaching co-parenting in a pandemic with a spirit of cooperation.


Parenting is not an easy task for couples in a relationship, much less in a situation where parents are separated or divorced and dealing with the challenges of a pandemic. Legal support exists, however, to help create a healthy family dynamic and make co-parenting manageable, even in uncertain circumstances.


“I have a lot of sympathy for parents dealing with this, and I think it’s important to understand that it’s likely going to be temporary and to approach this in the spirit of cooperation,” Simpson says. “Hopefully we’ll all get through it and be better for it.”

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READ MORE: Coronavirus pandemic ‘really sucks’ and could impact holiday gatherings: Trudeau


Need help making sense of a parenting agreement or parenting order, or making changes before the holidays?

Visit the CBM Lawyers website to get in touch with a lawyer at one of their B.C. offices who can help.

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