• Mary MacCarthy

Shared custody during Covid-19: the story of Corrie & Gabi

For parents who share custody of their children, the Covid-19 lock downs have presented some unique challenges. Starting with: do the children continue to go back and forth between both parents, or is it safer - for social distancing purposes - to have the children ride out the pandemic in just one household?

Memories of being on the road together, pre Covid-19

I spoke to a Denver family for which the lock down has created a particularly tough situation. Seventeen year-old Gabi lives with her father in San Diego, and her mother Corrie lives in Denver - which is a thousand miles away.

Normally, Gabi flies to Denver to spend one weekend every month with her mother. The two also spend a lot of vacation time together.

I spoke to Corrie and Gabi together on Zoom. They said that, even though they are used to living three states away from each other, this forced separation feels very different from their normal set-up.


CORRIE: Gabi was born in San Diego and later we moved to Denver. Her father and I split up when she was seven. He wanted to go back to California. We agreed that Gabi would go with her Dad, and we would fly her back to Denver for a weekend every month. Of course, I go out there a a lot, too - for special events, and during some vacation times. We also try to do a summer road trip every year .

Mother-daughter, the early years

GABI: I just remember that my Dad was like, ‘we’re moving to California.’ They had probably talked about it and decided what they thought was best.

CORRIE: Gabi’s father is super close to his family in San Deigo. I thought that he should be able to live his life, and I should be able to live mine. I didn’t really think through the difficulties of having an interstate life. I did get pushback from some people around me. It was pretty hard-core - there were a lot of judgments for the first few years. But after that, it became more common to see kids getting on a flight by themselves. And also, people started to see how close Gabi and I are - so I think that changed their opinions.

GABI: I do remember that it was different not seeing my mom all the time. But you know, in a way it actually made us closer. Not seeing her all the time gave me the opportunity to reach out to her. We call and text each other all the time.

CORRIE: We had a family newsletter for awhile. Gabi has a stepbrother, Carl who’s now 15, and he lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. He’s my husband’s son, my stepson. The newsletter was a way for us all to keep up on each other’s news. One time we even did an interstate scavenger hunt - when I was on a road trip with Gabi, and my husband was on a road trip with Carl.

GABI: When the Covid-19 lock down happened, there wasn’t really much of a decision in terms of where I would stay. I was here in San Diego with my Dad, so staying here felt like the safest option. My mom was in New York City for her work and was about to go back to Denver, and she agreed that it made sense for me to stay in California. Plus, I have a ton of school work to stay on top of. So since the middle of March, I’ve been home with my Dad, and our dog.

With their California-Colorado-New York life, social media is useful for keep friends and family up-to-date on Corrie's and Gabi's whereabouts

CORRIE: As Gabi said, I was in New York City - specifically, in Harlem - when lock downs started, which obviously wasn’t the best place to be. I ended up renting a car and driving all the way back to Denver, because that felt safer than flying. I’m an auditor, I get contracts related to federal monitorships, and I was between contracts. And new contracts aren’t really showing up. I’ve only had one small contract since then. In terms of work, I’m just doing what a lot of people are doing - waiting this out as best as I can. The lack of contracts is definitely creating some financial stress for me. I’m not in a bad space, like a lot of people are - and I feel very fortunate. But - can I look at the future and say it’s going to be awesome, or even that it’s going to be ok? No, not at all. Will I have to change careers? At this point, I have no idea.

GABI: During the lock down, my mom and I text every day. And we call as often as we can. To be honest, I’m so overwhelmed with school that being apart right now hasn’t been a big issue. When we have time, we watch scary movies together.

CORRIE: I hate horror movies. But that’s how much I love her - I'm willing to watch them for her. Last night we watched The Haunting of Hill House.

GABI: My teachers have been assigning an extreme amount of work. The 11th grade is tough - I have to take the SAT and ACT [standardized tests for college admission]. I had signed up for those, and they’ve already been postponed twice. And next week, I have three Advanced Placement tests. I’m interested in studying psychology and human studies, also international affairs.

CORRIE: She has amazing grades!

GABI: I think I want to go to college on the East Coast. Especially since my mom is out there so much for work. I’d get the chance to see her a lot more.

Spending Easter together... on FaceTime

CORRIE: I’m definitely hoping to see her more in her college life. My hope is to move to New York full-time, since most of my work is there. And I love it there. So Gabi’s college life will be a new phase for us, as mother-daughter.

I don’t really have any regrets, when I look at how her dad and I chose to raise her. It made Gabi and I develop a very strong relationship, with a lot of honesty. And it challenged me to succeed, since I knew I had to be able to afford to fly her to me once a month. That financial pressure was a catalyst for me to grow my career.

I’d be curious what Gabi thinks - Gabi, do you have any regrets?

Gabi's dog sometimes gets in on the FaceTiming

GABI: I would never think of doing this in a different way. It made us so close. I do realize how super lucky we are to do this. It’s a huge privilege. I love being in both places. California and Colorado are both so different and so special to me. And it’s quite cool when you tell people your situation. They say it’s cool and unique.

CORRIE: I’m so proud of you!

And I've got to say, her father really did an awesome job, with our co-parenting. I have zero complaints. We had an amicable relationship pretty much from the the beginning, and over time we figured out good communication between the two of us.

The lock down has been really hard for me. I’ve been very emotional about it. Even though we’ve been living apart for years, this is so different. It’s so strange to think that - if I fly out to see her, I risk bringing germs not only to her, but also to her dad, her grandparents, her whole space.

I do have a good reference point for myself. A few years ago I had to do a radioactive iodine treatment, for thyroid cancer. That required ten days of me going into total isolation. Gabi would call me every day, and she got me through it.

For me, the Covid lock down feels similar to that personal quarantine I had to do. The miles that separate us don’t matter. The isolation doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we love each other.

I can’t say anything else or I’ll cry!

More broadly, I guess that how Gabi and I live is representative of what a lot of people are going through right now - they have to endure a long period of not seeing the people who are closest to them. Gabi and I have grown used to that over the years, and have already built our ways of dealing with the physical distance.

GABI: Right now, I’m hoping I see my mom sooner rather than later. But I trust my parents to wait until it’s safe for my mom to come out here. I’ll just keep focusing on my school work.

CORRIE: Of course, I’m thinking - let’s see each other as soon as possible. I had a ticket to fly out there later this week. But if I were to use that, I would be coming into contact with Gabi, who’s in contact not just with her dad but also her grandparents. At this point, we're just going to keep waiting it out, wait until it really seems safer to see each other.

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