The coronavirus pandemic is bringing some new rules to co-parenting. As co-parents to a 16-year-old, here are our tips for navigating this new normal.

By Nikki DeBartolo and Ben Heldfond
April 16, 2020
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Credit: Emma Darvick

We’ve luckily had what some might call a “happy divorce” and have amicably been co-parenting for 13 years. However, being a co-parent during the coronavirus pandemic can present challenges for even the friendliest exes. When we decided to stay at home to help stop the spread of the virus, we knew we needed to work harder than ever to make sure our teenage son Asher had the smoothest transition possible into this new normal.

In doing so, not only do we understand the importance of working together as a team, but how valuable family time is, even from afar. It is times like these that families need to come together, instead of getting pulled apart.

Here are our tips for co-parenting during the pandemic.

Make the Best Decisions for Your Kids

While there is so much uncertainty during this time, this could be a tremendous opportunity for couples who might not have had the easiest divorce to find a way to work together to make decisions that are in the best interest of the children. These decisions will take compromise and sacrifice, especially since it’s not easy for families to lean on legal systems to help them sort out their issues during this time.

A big decision involves custody, and it's OK to make a few changes now. In our case, we’ve always made sure to keep a regimented schedule for Asher, so he has consistency in both houses. We usually do several days at one house and then back to the other for the same amount of time. Right now, we've had to switch things up. During school hours, Asher is at Mom’s house, only because it is quieter, and he can concentrate better without his younger siblings there. It seems to be working great for all of us.

Circumstances may need to be altered for safety too. If one parent works as a nurse in a hospital, for example, the best thing for the well-being of the children is probably for them not to stay at that parent’s house until this pandemic is over.

In order to accomplish this, we would encourage parents to communicate and find a solution where the time missed is made up when this is over.

Keep Communication Open

Making sure everyone is on the same page is always important, and in times like these, it’s fine to overcommunicate with your co-parent. Pick up the phone instead of texting or emailing—although those might be easier to do.

Talking through things is much simpler than people think and can be way more effective. We’ve fine-tuned the communication method for 13 years and have eliminated so many unnecessary arguments by just communicating properly.

Prepare for Financial Turmoil

It’s no secret the financial wave of this virus is going to touch everyone. We beg parents to be compassionate and reasonable with each other and know that one might be having a harder financial time given the current environment. Yes, a financial agreement was decided upon and you made a commitment to that, but it’s OK to bend the rules a bit during this time.

This is another situation where parents need to be open-minded. We all need to understand that right now everything isn’t normal, and things will be tight for many in the foreseeable future. And always remember, if you use your finances as a weapon against your co-parent, it’s just going to make your child feel more hurt and scared.

Eliminate Unnecessary Stress

As we continue to navigate the challenges of an uncertain future, we do the best we can to eliminate outside stress and keep open and honest conversations with one another. We personally don’t engage in political and controversial conversations with our son, because those can add so much stress to any situation. We also try and limit his access to news stories, many of which can be terrifying, whether it’s through the TV, his smartphone, or computer.

Stay Educated About the Coronavirus

On that note, it’s still important to learn the facts about COVID-19. Before we went on a full state lockdown, we were having issues trying to reason with a 16-year-old about social distancing and why it’s necessary to stop the spread of the disease. It was very important to us to make sure he knew his role in helping out by maintaining that physical distance from people, keeping up with his personal hygiene, and following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to help flatten the curve.

When we initially decided to stay at home, we knew that Asher was going to be splitting his time between both our houses, so if he was a carrier, he would bring the virus into both our homes. We read up as much as we could about COVID-19 and we took every precaution to keep our homes as safe as possible. We both agreed that each house would follow strict social distancing guidelines.

As the weeks pass, we continue to educate ourselves and our son with trusted sources, including the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), in order to continue taking precautionary action to fight against this virus.

Be Flexible

We have always been flexible and equally share our time with Asher. Not only is it best for him, but it’s fair for us too. If one of us is traveling, we adjust the schedule accordingly, so no one loses time. We understand that things change and life happens, so not everything is set in stone.

Unfortunately this doesn’t happen very often in bad divorces, but especially during the pandemic, we encourage parents to have flexibility with each other and show compassion. Whether that's altering schedules when necessary or leaning on each other when needed, it's time to put your differences aside and be open to changes.

We really don’t know how long this is going to last, but we do know that it won’t last forever, so right now, the best thing to do is to understand the circumstances are out of our control and be reasonable with each other.

Photo of Nikki, Asher, and Ben
| Credit: Joe Sale Photography

Ben Heldfond and Nikki DeBartolo are co-parents to a 16-year-old named Asher. They are co-founders of Our Happy Divorce, a service that offers guidance on creating a post-divorce happy, modern family and are co-authors of Our Happy Divorce: How Ending Our Marriage Brought Us Together. Their mission is to help families during divorce.  

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