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Covid-19 and Long Distance Parenting Visitation

Remember the good ole days of eating at restaurants, indoors? Of leisurely walking the isles of a grocery store to browse, accidentally bumping into someone, smiling and saying hello? Yeah, that was fun. A year ago Covid-19 was but a glimmer in our eye. Another gift of 2020. Now we are a year in, and what we thought was temporary isn’t so much so.

A year ago, it was much easier to be entirely tactical about how to proceed with long distance visitation and Coronavirus. But for some long distance parents, Covid-19 threw a very large painful wrench into visitation. Some long distance parents are grappling with having not seen their child in a year or more. Many are unsure about what covid-19 might mean to their long term arrangement. All are feeling like they are contemplating life altering risks each time they consider in person visitation.

It’s become apparent that covid-19 isn’t going away overnight. The pandemic may even change our lives permanently in some ways, but it’s not clear yet how. For long distance parents, it could be worth coming up with a longer term plan for how to have visitation during pandemic.

Should Long Distance Parents have In Person Visitation During Covid-19?

Earlier this year, parents were deciding between online and in person school for their children. I saw an infographic circulating on facebook, as you do, that listed the appropriate responses to a parent telling you their decision for their child. It’s always “That must be a difficult decision”.

I think that is appropriate here too. Long distance parents are making very difficult decisions about visitation with their kids. It’s a difficult decision to have a child travel across a country or over oceans on a plane. It is an equally difficult decision to decide they shouldn’t travel and forego visitation.

Everyone has opinions one way or the other. The bottom line is that it’s a very personal, very difficult decision. And whether fortunately or not, there are no right answers.

Covid-19 Risk and Chances

Very often these decisions come down to conversation about risk and chances. The risk or chance of catching coronavirus, of having complications, and of spreading the virus.

When we are talking odds and chances, it’s a numbers game. If odds are 5%, for example, that seems like pretty good odds. But in the case of whether your child will catch coronavirus while travelling, for example, that still means the 5% is filled with someone’s kids. The gamble is whether or not they will be your kids. And look, coronavirus can be deadly and have long term health consequences. That is quite a gamble.

Enter the sickening dread a parent faces when considering long distance visitation. And make no mistake, it’s not just the long distance parents struggling with these decisions. It’s also the custodial co-parents.

The risk of catching Coronavirus

There are things we can do to lower the risk like wearing masks, quarantining, and washing our hands. Kids may be at lower risk of catching and having complications from covid-19. A person who has already had it might be at lower risk of being re-infected. However, lower risk doesn’t mean no risk. There are not, currently, any no-risk options.

There are no statistics, that I know of, to gauge how likely you are to catch covid-19 during travel. But we know that travel is a high risk activity. You have so many people crammed into small spaces, breathing the same air, touching all the things. I have personally heard stories of long distance parents whos children caught covid-19 from during in person visitation. I have also heard from long distance parents whos children remained perfectly healthy during visitation.

The risk of spreading coronavirus – and high risk individuals

We know that, especially in kids, it’s possible to have Coronavirus and not know it. Statistics say that maybe 20% of cases are asymptomatic. However, those asymptomatic people are still contagious. They have the virus in their body and bodily fluids and their breath, sneezes and coughs have the virus in them. They just don’t have symptoms.

You can get a test, but antigen testing can give false negatives, and will most likely be negative until you have been infected for days, during which time you are still contagious.

All of this means that there is no way to screen all contagious, covid-19 positive people out of travelling. And of course, you have the people who travel knowing full well they have it. That’s what makes travelling so high risk. That also means that if your child travels, there is no way to know if they came through the travel without catching it. Just because they are asymptomatic or test negative doesn’t mean they do not have the virus and are not contagious.

When there are high risk individuals in the child’s home on either side, that increases the risk in the equation. Now visitation is no longer just about the child’s safety but also about the safety of others in the home.

The risk of foregoing visitation

On the other hand, you have the effect on the child and the parent of not having time together. Skipping a weekly or a monthly visit is one thing. However, many long distance parents have visitation several times a year, so skipping visitation could mean not seeing their child for a year or more.

In person visitation is a critical part of the parent/child relationship. Virtual visitation and all of the other things we talk about here on the site are part of the long distance parenting tool kit but cannot sustain a relationship by themselves. A child and a parent need that in person bonding time together.

With no definite end in sight, it’s imperative that parents put a strategy in place to protect the child, the involved families, and the child’s relationship with their long distance parent.

Ideas for lower-risk visitation

Know that whatever you decide to do in the way of visitation, I’m on your side. That must be a very difficult decision to make. And also, it’s important to have a plan in place that makes it safer all around and/or, even possible. Brainstorm ideas with your co-parent. This might help you feel more comfortable with visitation or just to make visitation more viable. Your plan might include :

  • If your child flies as an unaccompanied minor, practice the right way to traverse and airport and take a mask on and off with your child. As a person with an immune deficiency, I know first hand that it’s a whole skill set that takes practice. But it will pay off in a much lower risk of catching anything. I recommend practicing with them because it’s sometimes muscle memory to reach for the handrail, for example, and masks are a brand new skill. Kids especially need that tactile learning experience. Here are some of those skills :
    • Don’t touch handrails, counters and other common public surfaces. Take them to a public place that is open, like a park or outdoor mall, and walk the stairs, use the escalator and the elevator, order food at a counter and practice not touching. Practice sanitizing hands after you touch something.
    • Don’t touch your mask once it’s on. When taking it off or putting it on, sanitize hands first and only touch the ear loops. Don’t play with it when it’s off of your face. Practice taking it on and off and sanitizing hands in between. Give them a safe place to put it between uses like a pocket or a baggie.
    • Don’t touch your face with your hands. Tickle a small nose or ear with a feather and practice using the inside of an arm to scratch it. Letting them tickle your nose with the feather is fair play!
    • Sanitize or wash hands between receiving food and eating it. Practice handing them food like it would happen on an airplane and how to sanitize hands before putting the food near their face.
  • There might be less risky forms of travel that might be more arduous but that would create more opportunity for visitation. For example, driving many hours is not something someone might normally do, but in these circumstances, might be a less risky alternative to flying.
  • The long distance parent travelling to the child’s home town, quarantining and then having visitation there might be an option. With many companies opting for work from home arrangements, this might be viable now, where it may not have been possible when they needed to be in the office daily.
  • Including quarantining with your child in your plan when they get to your home and back to their other parent’s home. It’s tough to keep a child in one place for two weeks but with some pre-planning, it could be doable. Plan ahead for games, movies, and activities that keep you both enjoying your time together in quarantine safely.
  • Include covid-19 testing after your quarantine in your plan. If you quarantined for two weeks, you are not likely to get a false negative.
  • Have a plan in place in case your child or a family member does catch covid-19 while they are with you. How will you care for them while keeping the rest of the family safe? Do you have everything you need to manage the non-emergency symptoms of covid-19 in a pinch? If they need emergency attention, what hospitals are near you and what do their patient loads look like?
  • Make plans for vulnerable family members. If they live in your home, how can you maintain their safety while the covid-19 status of you or your child is still unknown? If they do not live in your home, plan visits with them carefully to avoid possible infection. Consider outdoor, distanced visits only, or having someone else take over caretaking until you are completely cleared. You might need an additional quarantine after your child leaves, if your activities changed while your child was with you, and your bubble depends upon your activities.

You aren’t making this the new normal forever, just for as long as there is a pandemic. As uncomfortable as changes to the routine might be, they could go a long way towards making visitation safer and reluctant parents more willing to engage with visitation.

Long Distance Parent Covid-19 FAQ

Can my child legally travel during pandemic?

In most (if not all) cases, visitation with a parent is an allowable reason for travel when travel might be otherwise restricted. They may still be required to have a negative test before travelling and/or to quarantine. Check with the states and countries involved in their travel.

What do I do if the custodial parent won’t let my child travel?

First try coming up with some ideas that work with both parents. The ideas above might get your started. Your co-parent’s fear is likely valid but there might be a solution. If communication gets fraught, try some of these ideas to smooth it out. Assuming you have talked it to death and cannot come to an agreement, the only remedy is to go to court to compel them. Covid-19 is still largely unexplored legal territory. What the judge determines may depend upon the judge and your specific situation. Elements in your specific situation that could impact the decision might include high-risk individuals in your child’s family, a high risk situation in your home, or high risk travel. If you are considering going to court, it might be a good idea to get a consult with an attorney in your area to ask their opinion.

What if I haven’t seen my child in a very long time?

My heart goes out to you. I totally understand. It’s been just over a year since I’ve seen my son. If you or your co-parent have made the decision to forego visitation because of the risk and you are starting to feel the burn, it could be worth going back to the drawing board with some new ideas to make visitation less risky. Try some of the ideas in this post on to see if they might work and think creatively! Your plan doesn’t have to last forever, it just needs to get you some much needed time with your child during pandemic.

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