Shared Custody & Social Distancing (1 Mom’s Rules For Keeping Everyone Safe)


It took approximately 24 hours of self-quarantine for the whole thing to really sink in, to be genuinely felt. And then — eventually — the kids and I found our self-quarantine groove. We are lucky; we were managing that just fine. Until now. Now, we have to transition custody, which is always a little complicated. Today? It’s nerve-wracking.

We are transitioning custody by and according to court order, by the same courts that are shut down and to which we can’t run and ask for temporary orders to maintain one site of quarantine or any other such crazy thing — I mean, not that that’s anything I thought of doing…none of us would do that, right?

Shared Custody: How We Flatten The Curve & Maintain Social Distance Through The Transitions

If you have one of those healthy, conscious uncoupling type of divorce situations, one site of quarantine is probably easier/safer/more efficient — and a super-selfless act, on both sides, if parents are willing to cooperate in that regard.

That’s not us.

In fact, that’s probably not many of us. Personally, I only have one friend who lives that story; I have a multitude of divorced custody-sharing friends of the other sort. So we’re all going to maintain our court ordered custody schedule at both homes — all of us, one big happy divorced family. And my nerves have effectively been re-wracked all over again as we enter our first custody swap under quarantine (says this admitted control-freak of a divorced mom). And I know I’m not alone.

I do feel for my ex. These crazy times are enough to bring us all together in the least expected of ways.

To his credit, my ex-husband/kids’ father was ahead of the curve and wanted the kids out of school before our local school district actually called it. We spoke (we don’t do that often) and agreed (we really don’t do that often) to pull the kids from school. No brainer. Done.

Let’s call last week the transitional period because in the last days: People went to work. Our kids went to school (through Thursday). My folks dropped off a set of LEGOs at the back door and said hello. Have you tried telling kids not to hug their grandparents, not to touch them, to back up six feet? Right.

The girls went across the street to play basketball with friends one day. We had pizza outside with a few neighbors for dinner. Four (seemingly) very small things, in a (seemingly) more controlled, not quarantined-but-cautious week. Of course, by the time Friday night rolled around, these four things kept me awake at night with regret and anxiety, as I realized, nope, this is real, and if we’re going to be home, we’re effectively choosing to self-quarantine, and we need to just do that: quarantine all the way or it doesn’t work.

So last week was last week. It was a week of awakening to a new day. Our self-quarantine — the real actual one — officially started late Friday/Early Saturday. And now we’re just doing it (our schools technically sent notice on Friday, for closures of two weeks, beginning Monday). In short order, we’ve come to appreciate that just staying out of school is not enough; it’s just one piece of this Complicated-AF puzzle.

Since then, there have not been (nor will there be in the foreseeable future), anyone other than us in our homes. Nor will there be any take-out food, shared play or food with anyone (even outdoors), no more drop-offs, no more anything. It feels inhumane, unnatural, isolating…it feels not good. But it is THE ONLY way to flatten the curve. And so, we’re doing it. And like I said, 24 hours later, we were in the groove of actually doing it and we’ve been doing so since.

It took me reading this NPR article and Social Distancing: This Is Not a Snow Day to fully get there.

Thankfully, my extended family, many of our friends, and a rather large majority of our community are also there. And then we text one another and ask what to do about the grandparent that wants to go golf, the parent who’s out running non-essential errands and setting up in-home playdates, the people who still want to go to restaurants, and the family, who shares a home with extended family practicing basically zero social distancing, and the adults who think they can live a normal life while the kids aren’t with them in a moment, and then just do the things while the kids are with them in another moment. I’ve heard all sorts of other peoples’ situations recently. And Nope. None of that works. We listen to one another, we encourage one another, we do the best we can. And then we text chat group ugh, at a time when there is no such thing as a group hug.

We, our immediate, albeit divorced, family, are a little more extra motivated to do this; we have an immune-suppressed, high-risk-kid. And we are lucky enough to have grandparents — who by nature of their ages are also high-risk. In order to actually keep him, them, and all others who are higher risk safe, and because we don’t even know what we don’t even know about who is actually at what risk, we really do need a herd mentality in this endeavor. Or it does not work. For any of us.


I’m an optimist. I kind of assumed we (by we I mean the whole world, to be clear) all read the same articles, and we were all on the same page about what self-quarantine and social distancing mean. And then I’ve learned, through various texts, chats, FaceTime sessions, phone calls, and FB posts, that nope. We are not.

So let’s try to get there, together, from a nice safe distance. Or at least to close the gap as best we can.

Again, to his credit, my ex/kids’ dad asked for another call, specifically to discuss “kid quarantine” in advance of our custody transition. And so we spoke again. We clarified a few things-in general. We almost managed to not have it be a contentious conversation, almost. High-five us. In the end, my kids are going to be picked up by him today and will spend the next 48 hours with him, and then they’ll come back. There is nothing I can legally do about that. I have ZERO real control over what happens in those 48 hours. I am nervous. This exercise, feels bigger than just the normal transition where kids go back and forth between the homes of their adult parents who’ve already proven that they don’t get along, don’t do things the same way, see the world differently.

And so I sat the kids down. We had a conversation. I asked them if they understand the rules right now. They told me that they do, but my eldest asked that I just write them down and send them to him please. And so here is my list for my kids, which is actually my imaginary control freak list to my ex, or if I’m real honest, is actually my imaginary control-freak list to the world right now:

A Control-Freak’s Rules For Social Distancing

1/ WASH. YOUR. HANDS – When you wake up, after you use the bathroom, before you eat anything, every time you sneeze, pick your nose, touch your face, use the XBox, laptop, and phone and the TV remotes. Pretty much every time you walk by a sink, just WASH. YOUR. HANDS.

2/ STOP TOUCHING YOUR FACES – Remind one another gently and with love. Call me out when you see me doing it. Roll your eyes when I call you out. That’s all OK. Just stop doing it as best you can. We can’t stop your baby sister from sucking her thumb right now. That’s not happening today. So lay off of that. Instead, STOP. PICKING. YOUR. NOSE. Use tissues. And then repeat step 1/ WASH. YOUR. HANDS.

3/ BLEACH WIPE THE SURFACES – Looking for something to do? Thinking you might be bored? Grab a bleach wipe or 10 and wipe: The door knobs, the faucets, the toilet flusher, the TV Remotes, The XBox Controllers, your headsets, the Switch. Then wipe the phones, the chargers, the laptops, and the iPads. When you are done, wipe the counters.

4/ NO TAKE-OUT FOOD – And obviously, we are not going out to eat. For now, we eat all of the well-stocked food in our own kitchen, whose packaging was all bleach wiped down as it entered the house and which we are super lucky to have, because not everyone does. (Might this seem extreme to some? Sure. We have a high risk kid. We can’t take any chances on who made the food right now. Painful as that might be, it’s not worth it right now.)

5/ NO ONE IS ALLOWED IN THE HOUSE. NO ONE. – Not our grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. Not our friends and neighbors. Not people we work with. No one. Not once. Not for just a minute. Not at all.

6/ WALK, HIKE, BIKE — These are your choices, and you are lucky to have them. When we leave the house, here’s what we are going to do while remaining 6 full feet away from anyone else doing the same, and after everyone has used the restroom because we aren’t using public restrooms (there are gloves in the car in case anyone really needs to.)

Take a Walk: Our City Streets are a wonderland to be discovered, all over again. If self-guided walks aren’t your thing, try these tours on Apps you can download. Daily, we walk random walks. Weekly, we’ll be adding one of these each week just for extra walk fun.

Take a Bike Ride: Our bike paths are plentiful. Here’s a short list to get your started.

Take a Hike: Our favorite easy-to-get-to hike is Rolling Hill Park. And we’re lucky to live a short distance from the Wissahickon too. And once when we are feeling a little more adventurous, here’s our next short list, and the one with waterfalls too for after that.

7/ EAT WHAT IS IN THE HOUSE – If we need more food, order groceries to be delivered, have them left at the door, and wipe them all down on their way in. Or send an adult to the store, who then washes their hands, bleach wipes all of the containers and packaging, and door knobs, and the car, and then washes their hands, after having changed their clothes. NO, you guys are not going to the store right now. And do not touch me if I just did, until I do all of the above.

8/ DO YOUR SCHOOL WORK – First thing, every morning, please do all of the work your heroic teachers have graciously assigned. Ask for help. We are here to help. Stay on top of it. Do not get caught in, “this isn’t due until we go back to school.” If it was assigned today, it’s due today. Get it done. After your work is done every day, please pack it all back up in your bag. Every day. All of it. So that come Wednesday morning, and all the Wednesday mornings, you aren’t searching a whole house for whatever you need to come back to your other house.

9/ SHOES OFF – We remain a shoes-off house. Always. Wipe your feet on a mat. Take them off, put them in your bin. And then go WASH. YOUR. HANDS.

10/ COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS – Remember to please appreciate these things, every day: We are healthy. Let’s stay that way. We have shelter, thankfully. We have food, thankfully. We have each other; be kind. And feel free to use all of the resources we are lucky to have here to communicate with your friends, because yes, that’s super important too. Love, Mom.

See? Just 10 easy to follow rules. No problem, right? Be well friends. All suggestions for how to do better are welcome and appreciated. According to all of our court-ordered, non-disparagement clauses, we won’t vent specifically about anyone, but feel free to share general frustrations, and even better, the solutions that have worked for your family.

And for all you married people that are ALL at home together, we send you love too! (That’s just not a post that I’m qualified to write).

xoxo, A

PS: Follow along with me on Pinterest for more Home Inspiration and other random distraction via pretty visuals during these crazy times. xo A


  1. I woke up at 6 this morning looking for articles on COVID-19 and custody arrangements. My ex and I are rarely civil to each other and somehow he has agreed to leave our child with me for the first two weeks and then take it from there. It is a better win than I thought it would be. Thank you for writing about this.

    • Kenya: we probably need a short list of bookmarks for our craziest early am searches(actually, I’m not sure I’d be 100% honest in sharing mine, but if you were here, you could laugh over my shoulder.) High Five on a little cooperation for the larger good, well done you two. Stay strong. Sending love. xoxo A

  2. Oh Annemarie – thank you for putting words to this. The details in my family are different, but the fear in my heart and the deep tension of wanting to control what is legally uncontrollable is absolutely the same. Shared custody makes most parenting 100x times harder and more emotionally tenuous. Deep breaths. I’m going to spend my non-custody time sleeping and caring for myself.

  3. Your rules are brilliant. Maybe you could include them in an article that wasn’t geared toward custody but just to the general public? It might be wider readership, which it’s definitely worthy of.

    • Abbey…hmmm…that my friend is something to think on today. Appreciated feedback, and a great idea, that I’m not exactly sure how to manage. Adding to the top of the list of “things I might be able to manage, somehow, with some help, from a distance, today.” Sending hugs, and appreciation. xoxo A

  4. I would say no. And when the cops show up .. they can force their hand. In all likelihood they would not. Ex can take me to family court when they open. Been there and done that with this. I got to the point where I did what I wanted and if my ex didn’t like it he could take me to court, he never did.

  5. After a year of trying to get to the point of a separation agreement with my contrarian ex, we *just* started living separately and following the parenting schedule one week before the closures and quarantines started. Kids are 3 and 6. So, we are figuring out how to do the divorcing family thing and the coronavirus thing at the same time. Because, of course.

    • Erin: Oh lady. I wish I could hug you right now. There are rarely good times for divorce and separation, maybe just “less bad” times. And now, is decidedly, not a “less bad” time for anything. Without going too deep, but maybe just enough, I’ll say this, there’s a whole bunch of mommas who feel you right now. Genuinely. I am one of them, I am one of many. Know we are out here and we’re routing for you; we’re laughing with you, and crying with you, and trying the best we can with you. Keep yourself as solid as humanly possible, whatever it takes. Love those two kids like crazy when they are with you. And just get through the rest of the time, as best you can. Sometimes, there’s a weird clarity that comes when the shit really hits the fan…and you can see about 2 feet in front of you, but basically nothing else, the big picture is just a big blur. And so, you just do the very best you can, in every moment, and take those two impossible seeming steps forward. In this moment, I send you a gigantic amount of love. xoxo A

  6. My big question is, how am I supposed to deal with my ex’s new wife still leaving their house every day to go to work, and now she’s developed “a mild cough”? He is still insisting on me sending the kids over there on Friday if she doesn’t develop any fever, but I’m extremely hesitant! I’d prefer to just keep the kids on lockdown here with me for the next 2 weeks until the step-mom is all clear, but he’s insisting it’s no big deal and I’m terrified!

    • Amber Joy-Truth (that I’m obviously not proud of?) I wrote you a 5000 word response to this-right away. That simply wasn’t “publish on a public blog” appropriate. And since then, I’ve thought of you every day, and about how I could possibly get to an “appropriate” comment response. I’m still at a fail. I guess mostly, b/c I feel you, deeply, and personally. I myself, flip back and forth, many times a day between wanting to have faith and trust in, well everyone, to do the ‘right’ thing-and having zero faith. The challenge, for my own peace of mind, is that we all define “right” differently. This pandemic, has really amped up how we all define “right.” There’s a short game, and a long game in every choice we make right now. I’m in awe of people who can cooperate for common good. And maybe, in my worst moments, a little resentful of them too. Mostly, for me right now, I think back on all the times in life that so many people have said, you can only control you. For me, that means that I do the best I can every day. And I ask for cooperation. And when I get it, I breathe and appreciate it. And when I don’t, I hold my breath, calm my mind, and try to figure out how to ask for it better, while fully appreciating that it might not ever come, and that when it doesn’t, I just have to find a way to accept that, and to keep on just doing the best I can, and to breathe. That, is completely freaking nerve wrecking and custody transitions, because there isn’t a one and done with that for most of us, bring up the whole emotional rollercoaster again, and again, and again. I don’t know where your situation went from where it was. The optimist in me has certain hopes of a certain happy ending. The realist in me, thinks of you every day and sends you strength and love. I wish there was a magic wand of “right” answers right now, I’d wave it all day every day. I don’t have one. Just a whole lotta empathy and love for you. Stay strong woman. Do the best you can. Know you aren’t alone, and that we also know, that in itself, does not make this any better. xoxo A

  7. I am on a strange side of this: BF shares custody with a horrible ex-wife who is seeing a doctor. Ex-wife refuses to be clear with BF on whether or not she is continuing to see her still-practicing boyfriend. So I have made the decision to not see BF until…I don’t know when. I am not going to tell BF that he cannot see his kid, but the ex absolutely refuses to be specific about who/what she is allowing, even after BF made it clear that we (he and I) are only seeing each other; I am not even seeing my own child (who is 19 and lives just four blocks away).

    No one is asking the ex to change anything – just to be clear and honest about what is happening so that we can make a decision about whether or not I can continue to see my partner. Absent that, we will separate.

    • Suzannah-just a quick note of appreciation and a hug, more than a response. I see, all around me, wise, loving people, making hard choices, to protect their families and communities. I see plenty of other people too. So seeing the ones that make the hard choices is more moving. I count you among them. Trust is important. In a perfect world, adults would all cooperate for common good, of kids, of disease, of needs averaging. We don’t live in a perfect world, and some adults sacrifice more than others to get us closer to the goal. So good looking out, for all of your people. Sending you strength to keep on with everything, including the hard choices. xoxo A

  8. I’m no lawyer, but the articles I saw regarding this all said that if you feel like the situation is harmful you can not honor the custody arrangement. You can modify it, wait until the new wife feels better, and then give him extra time to make up for it.

  9. I’m in the opposite situation. My husband has every other weekend visitation. He is immune-compromised. We have reason to believe his ex wife, his kids, and their household are not practicing social distancing. My husband reached out to his ex wife, reminded her that he is immune compromised, and requested that the children don’t come to our house while our state is under a stay at home order. At first, she agreed, but several days later she changed her mind and did that my husband is obligated to take his visitation and she will take him to court if he doesn’t. It’s unclear if they will arrive tomorrow, but both of us are nervous. The irony is that if the children ever come down with the virus, his ex wife will likely try to blame us, even if we are not sick. She once told my husband he gave the children the norovirus, because he has pneumonia. My husband was recently hospitalized on his visitation weekend and his ex wife tried to demand he pay her for missing his weekend. Having to deal with a high conflict ex wife is difficult in the best of times, but especially during this unsettling time, it fills me with anxiety and dread.

    • Eileen: Complicated divorce doesn’t differentiate by sex, we’re all vulnerable to being the one in the wrong and the one wronged. Different players play different roles in all of this for all of us. At its worst, I always do the: take a deep breath, accept the things I can not change, and do my best with the bits I have control over thing, and kiss the rest (all that anxiety) up to some higher power. That “advice” is way too simple…but sometimes, we just don’t have any other place to start other than where we are, and to just do the best we can. I’m sending you strength and love through the universe to do the best you can and wishes that all around you do too woman. Hang as tough as you can. These times are hard enough, compromised immune systems don’t help, nor do complicated divorce situations. You are felt, know that and feel the hug coming back at you here. xo A

  10. It was a comfort to find this post. Yes a court order doesn’t explain what to do in case of a virus. Some may say I’m lucky because me and my ex live in the same building. It’s great for my child, horrible for me. The first 2 weeks was a dream for me because I worked from and had my child all day. Then his father felt that I had more time than him. Soon be started working from home. Now when my child moves around every 2 days, he and I fight over hours. We do not get along. He has called the cops on me in the past. He has the short temper but it’s more like dealing with a bully. My problem now is it we got into an argument.

    i can’t call the police.

    • Susan: Felt, heard, and appreciated. Same building, is one of those situations that “looks ideal” from the outside in and from the inside out can turn your head and stomach in knots, daily, depending on the situation. I, promise, I know this isn’t always possible…but in dealing with argumentative people, I dunno, sometimes the rise out of you is what fuels them. And in general, we put out fires by starving them of oxygen. It’s not for everyone always, but I do find the deep breath, choose your battles, choose only the big ones that super matter, save it for when it does, let the rest go even when you don’t like it most…sometimes, well, sometimes, it leaves more room for peace inside of us when we can force ourselves to genuinely let things go. We are all we can control really. Which is tough, but true. It’s a balance, right? Just roll with it for the sake of peace+stand your ground where and when it really matters most. Hang tough, and stand as strong, and loose as you can simultaneously. We call this custody sharing yoga-they are poses we all have to practice to master, and that sometimes we fail in even once we do, and that’s ok too. xoxo A

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