The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has been an unexpected and irrepressible force in global society. On a more individual level, it has also had a profound impact on Canadian families. Especially those headed up by separated or divorced parents.
If you are such a parent, you will keenly recall the start of the global health crisis. How it suddenly plunged your child’s existing schooling and parenting time arrangements (formerly referred to as child custody and access) into disarray. Suddenly, everything became more complicated. All due to government-imposed physical distancing mandates, the need for social circles and “bubbles”, and new restrictions on travel. These many new hurdles likely combined to necessitate formal or informal adjustments to your existing parenting arrangements.
Now that Ontario is slowly coming out of COVID-19 lockdown, how will the re-opening of workplaces and schools impact you? Will you have to re-work your parenting time arrangements – and if so, how?
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After Lockdown Co-parenting Arrangements
The short answer is: “Maybe”. It truly does depend on numerous family-specific factors. The first being the nature of your pre-pandemic arrangements with the other parent (whether by court order or agreement). Other factors will include the extent to which the pandemic created an incursion into those existing arrangements for you. Another is the nature of the accommodations or transitional measures you had to make to care for your children. Perhaps most importantly, it may depend on the level of co-operation between you and the other parent. Specifi,ally. finding mutually-acceptable ways to transition through the crisis.
For example, if your pre-pandemic court order around co-parenting had in-built flexibility. Did you and the other parent had an established history of good communication and a willingness to accommodate each other? Then the COVID-19 restrictions may not have affected you too severely. The ability to work together towards your children’s interests will have served you well during the crisis. This may mean that you have relatively little difficulty going back into the “new normal”. Now that the lockdown is starting to lift.
Conversely, if you are in a high-conflict separation or divorce. Perhaps you have had to litigate even minor disputes every step of the way. You may find yourselves back in court now that the economy and society is starting to re-open. On the other hand, you and the other parent may have been unable to reach a mutual resolution on your issues prior to lockdown. Then you the court can help to set rules and expectations around how to pick up where things left off.
Going Back to Work After Lockdown
Next, stores and retail workplaces will start to re-open, and office buildings will start to welcome back their corporate denizens. You will both have to give thought to how best to achieve a seamless back-to-work transition, while still meeting your children’s needs. As with many parents who have had nearly 18 months of working-from-home arrangements, you may have cobbled together a blend of temporary childcare and distance-learning arrangements. These may have to be dismantled gradually to keep in-step with phased-in government plans to reset the economy and allow employees to return to work.
With that said, not all businesses are planning to reinstall their entire workforce, once things re-open fully. Instead, some employers have realized that there are efficiencies inherent in having some employees continue to work remotely even after the pandemic is over. If you and/or the other parent are not returning to the workplace full-time, or if there might be a blend of remote-work and in-house employment imposed on you, then you may never be able to return to your pre-pandemic arrangements around parenting time and childcare. This means you may have to establish a very different model from the one you had before the crisis.
What About Schools Re-Opening?
Finally, there is the question of schooling, and getting kids to and from their extracurricular activities. The intervening summer months will give parents time to ponder. The re-opening of schools this fall (2021) will add yet another layer of needs and expectations to the mix.
For example, the government has a new directive for a return to full-time in-person schooling for children, the vast majority of whom have been studying remotely for months. It will require parents to revert to existing arrangements around driving, after school activities, and custody rotations. (If they are still workable.) If changes need to be made due to the parents’ own changed work schedules or arrangements, this will have to be factored in.
How Should Parents Negotiate Towards the “New Normal”?
Regardless of whether you are happily married, separated or divorced, as a parent you face a good deal of uncertainty in the coming months. As the Ontario government tinkers and finalizes with its staged re-opening plan after the lockdown.
But if you are separated or divorced and trying to re-calibrate your parenting time arrangements with the other parent, then you will ideally approach the matter with a good dose of optimism, flexibility, and co-operation. As with any set of negotiations that involve accommodating the best interests of your children, communication is key.