Can you believe it? The Holidays are upon us. I do not know where the year went. I guess COVID messed with my internal clock or something because although I cannot wait for the “New Normal” to return to the “Old Normal,” COVID will impact how we celebrate this Holiday Season.
Before I go any further, I cannot stress the importance of complying with your court order! No one should willfully violate a court order. “Willful disobedience.” As it can expose a party to contempt and sanctions. It is not suitable for long-term co-parenting, and therefore should be avoided.
I am not saying that questions won’t arise; I am sure they will, or most likely have. Who will our children be exposed to? How is social distancing going to work? Are masks going to be worn inside with strangers? What are the impacts of travel restrictions? The list goes on while we slowly realize this knot in our stomach has grown to epic proportions.
One of the realities of this “New Normal” is that we as parents have been forced to set our ego aside now, more so than ever, and focus on what is best for our child. We, parents, need to look at this together.
We need to determine how our children are affected, not just by the virus but also by the anxiety surrounding travel, mask-wearing, online schooling, etc. But the buck does not stop there.
When planning your family and holiday gatherings, you should also think about others in attendance. Are there people 65+ or people with pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or hypertension going to be in attendance?
How many people will be there? How many interactions are expected, and even more so, how are you going to make sure people self-monitor for symptoms and not take unnecessary risks in favor of “family time”?
Our duty as the grown-ups to ensure all of the recommended precautions are followed during custodial and non-custodial time. It is up to us to enforce social distancing, limit our children’s exposure to other groups of people, and create ample opportunity for our kids to practice good personal hygiene. In other words, practicing the same precautions would apply when their children are in our care.
If you feel sick at all, stay home away from your family gatherings. It’s important to recognize who is at risk and be respectful about safety guidelines around those people.
In an ideal world, parents would work on an appropriate alternative to their regular custody arrangement, or at least until the virus subsides sufficiently to allow for more routine activity.
“A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow.” ~ General George S. Patton (paraphrased)
Having said this, I would like to provide some additional guidance to parents in this situation. None of these guidelines are set in stone but certainly warrant some thought, as we would like to avoid adding stress on children in our care. Here is my Top 5 Tips to Stay Healthy and Safe this Holiday Season.
1. BE & STAY HEALTHY
Adhere to all CDC and local and state guidelines. Be a role model for your children, and make sure they, just like you, are washing their hands regularly and at appropriate times. Don’t forget to wipe down surfaces, and maintain social distancing, and when away from home, check the proper media channels regularly for up-to-date travel and health advisories.
2. BE COMPLIANT with court orders and custody agreements.
On March 17, 2020, Texas Supreme Court issued the Second Emergency Order Regarding the COVID-19 State of Disaster which applied to all 254 counties in Texas and stated in pertinent part that “[for] purposes of determining a person’s right to possession of and access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, the original published school schedule shall control in all instances” and that custody shall not be affected by school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also specifically stated that “[n]nothing herein prevents parties from altering a possession schedule by agreement if allowed by their court order(s), or courts from modifying their orders.” This is an essential element, as it gives parents the right to modify their schedule if desired, even if it’s just temporarily.
Routine gives comfort, so do not try to change things unnecessarily, but don’t be too rigid not to provide accommodation where prudence would call for it. So, keep in mind, court orders are still in full effect, and unless a mutually agreed alternative had been made, court orders should be followed.
3. BE GENEROUS
Provide makeup time, where possible, to the parent who missed out. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take serious concerns raised in later filings about inflexible parents in highly unusual circumstances.
4. THINK OUTSIDE OF THE BOX
With travel being more restrictive these days, and out of the house activities being limited, try to get some extra family time by reading a book together, watching movies at home, playing some board games and facetime or skype, and creating a feeling of closeness.
5. BE TRANSPARENT
Be honest, share all information about potential exposure to the virus, and have a candid conversation on how you will protect the child from exposure. Both parents should be informed immediately if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.
I hope this helps you be proactive this holiday season. Remember: As always, put your children first! What we do now will shape our children’s reality and the way they love, communicate, and parent down the line.
If you have any questions about collaborative divorce or another family law issue, GP Schoemakers, PLLC is more than happy to assist; you can reach us at 832.408.0505 or find us on at www.gpslawyer.com – We hope this article has helped you and your family shape a better tomorrow.