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Navigating Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements During COVID-19

Oklahoma, like so many other states, requires parents to maintain Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements, despite the COVID-19 crisis. If this requires children to travel to a different location, or shelter-in-place in a different parent’s home, you and your child might be fearful. You have no knowledge of steps being taken in an ex-spouse’s home to prevent and protect your child from COVID-19: you’re wondering if your ex-spouse has been tested, if others living in the home have been tested – if anyone in the home is in the medical field, has been exposed, or tested positive.

Although many schools are offering on-line only classes, custody agreements in the state of Oklahoma must be followed. Even if you have legitimate concerns about internet access for online learning, assistance in home schooling, and/or in-place childcare, you could be held in contempt if you fail to share physical custody. And no, sheltering-in-place orders do not directly override child custody orders. This alone leaves many parents and children feeling anxious, experiencing stress, and symptoms of depression. Improving Lives Counseling Services’ licensed team of counselors can help you mediate limited changes to existing custody or visitation orders.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court has ordered that school closures do not change the terms of visitation schedules. That means children follow the schedule they would have if the school had not closed.

Modifying a current agreement for Christmas and winter break should be done as soon as possible. In short, if you believe due to the coronavirus your current agreement needs to be modified, be proactive, call us now. The sooner you and your ex-spouse agree to changes, the sooner you can inform your child. Children, especially young ones, require consistency to feel secure. They need to know as far in advance as possible where they will be spending Christmas, winter break, and even New Years’. They also need to know they will be safe from the coronavirus. Mediating a change due to COVID-19 requires both parents to agree to sitting down with a counselor or therapist, rather than going through the courts. Some states require the courts be notified in writing of any changes made due to COVID-19.

In Oklahoma, dozens of emergency custody motions have been filed since the crisis began. An Oklahoma based clinic worker lost custody of her children during this pandemic. With the increase in the number of coronavirus cases, many places are closed, however, Oklahoma courts remain open for emergency custody orders. Whether you agree to a counselor, use a mediator, or go through the courts, the time to begin the process is now. Has COVID-19 been turned into a weapon by some? Yes, but every couple and every situation are different. Parents crafting their own agreement allows them to avoid the stress of legal proceedings – yet, for those who need them, attorneys are available throughout this pandemic.

Yes, people are afraid for their children. Stress for many are at an all-time high, and diagnoses of substance and non-substance abuse behavior disorders are on the rise. News outlets, media organizations, newspapers, religious leaders, teachers, school counselors, and the medical community report an increase in mental illnesses. The mental health of you, your family, and those you care about the most are of the utmost importance to Improving Lives Counseling Services’ team of counselors and therapists.

STAY CONNECTED

Thanks to technology, there are ways children can maintain relationships with their non-custodial parent. Custodial parents can email updates and pictures, post privately on social media sites, make telephone calls, and use FaceTime to stay connected. “Virtual visitation is a lot like an online business meeting or a video chat with relatives, often conducted via Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms. It’s been available in many states for some time, even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While not typically intended as an alternative to in-person visitation, (depending on where you live) courts may temporarily allow online visitation in place of in-person visitation in light of the current situation.”

You, your ex-spouse, and your children are living through a pandemic. The coronavirus (by necessity or choice) may require you to make changes to Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements. The more understanding and cooperative you are with your ex-spouse or ex-partner, the better off you and your child (children) will be. Begin opening the lines of communication now. Determine if mediation or legal action will be required, and know that Improving Lives Counseling Services’ team of licensed, professional counselors and therapists are here to help. Once changes are made and both parents agree (legally or through mediation/counseling) let us help deliver the message to your child. Children are more afraid of COVID-19 than they admit. Adolescents and teens don’t want to worry parents. Children may seem accepting when in fact, they are fearful, lack understanding, and in some cases feel left out of the conversation or abandoned.

Regardless of what actions you take, or how you progress through this pandemic and the upcoming holidays, Improving Lives Counseling Services is here for children, adolescents, teens, adults, and seniors in virtual (online) and social distancing in-person sessions. You are not alone. We can help. Call us.