Emergency Planning for the Divorced Family

November 30, 2008

How do you put together an emergency plan when your kids spend half their time–or more–at the home of your former spouse?

Yeah, that’s a tough one. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common complication in family preps. Talking with your former spouse about day-to-day childrearing issues is often strained enough without bringing up the subject of food storage, emergency kits and contingency plans.

I have no children of my own, but am the stepmom to a wonderful kid whose father–fortunately–has legal custody but equally shared parenting time. The mother lives in the same neighborhood, which is convenient on many levels even if it is uncomfortable–to say the least–to run in to her at every turn. To put it delicately, the woman is unreasonable. This is the major reason she has been denied custody in multiple rounds in family court, and the reason my partner has had no success discussing an emergency plan.

I imagine our situation is probably among the least favorable in terms of cooperation, but at least my stepson’s visits at his mom’s keep him blocks–not counties or states–away from us. And he’s at an age when we can teach him valuable skills so that wherever he is, he won’t be helpless.

The stepparent’s role in legal custodial issues is a tenuous one, and for those of you reading this who are in a similar situation, you understand how difficult it can be to not have much input into issues that have enormous impact on the direction of our lives. But being the primary prepper in this household (I do wear the tin foil crown, indeed) I’ve finally convinced my partner to forge, with his attorney, the ground rules for emergency situations that involve sheltering-in-place, evacuation, basic emergency supplies and other fundamentals. We can’t force The Ex to learn how to shut off her utilities or how to pack a 72-hour emergency kit, but we can impart those skills to The Kid, and send him to her place with the essentials.

The last thing we’d want him to do is choose between disobeying his mother and disobeying us in a time of crisis, but we have determined a neighborhood park within two blocks of her home and told him that that is where we’d rally should the house be destroyed by fire or earthquake. (It happens to be where the local neighborhood emergency response team will rendezvous, and we have friends on that team). Should The Kid find himself at home alone, or should his mother be injured, he knows where to find skilled and familiar help.

If your own kids live farther away, get an idea of that communities emergency response plan. Talk to his or her school and find out what their official policy is on emergencies of varying nature, and do your best to work out a plan with YOUR Ex.

Be prepared for resistance, especially because preparedness is still viewed as paranoid and fringe by many and your ex may attempt to use this fact against you. Don’t worry about that–point out that in the last decade, enormous incidents like Ike, Katrina and 9/11 have made you concerned for your extended family’s safety and well-being. You’re only being responsible and cooperative.

I used the term “extended family“, because that’s exactly what The Ex remains. As much as The Kid’s mother is hostile, vicious and downright Evil Incarnate to us grownups, she is still his mother and we are fully aware that her well-being is important to his own. Our household rules prohibit us from saying anything negative about her in his presence, and our emergency protocol acknowledges that we can’t simply go grab him from her and run.

Not to say that that isn’t a viable, last-ditch effort for some. Just be aware that in all but the worst scenarios, when the dust settles the letter of the law won’t look kindly to disobeying legal custody rules. Best to have laid down the ground rules in advance, or at least have the ability to show that you’ve done your damnedest to do so.

By the way, how many cheesy SHTF type movies show estranged couples getting back together during shared traumatic experiences? Sort of like Parent Trap on steroids? What a load. Stress and crisis can bring people together, but more than likely it amplifies bad relationships. Good communication and mutual trust is crucial to group survival.

For that reason alone, if not for the sanity of your kids and self, see what you can do to make inroads with your ex now, before the SHTF.

Tips:

  • Pick a rendezvous point halfway between your home and that of your ex should your two households wish to meet up post-emergency.
  • Speak to your kids’ homeroom teachers, principals and district representative so you can learn how they will handle various emergencies. Volunteer to help out, if possible, in either the planning or as part of a crisis team during an actual event.
  • Arrange a meeting with your ex and attorneys (or do this in mediation) to draft emergency protocol in case of emergency. Even if you and your child’s other parent have a good relationship, having certain things on paper can make decisions easier when outside stresses and emotions may distort your sense of reason. (Which is why I’m a fan of prenups, by the way).
  • Take basic first aid classes with the Red Cross as soon as he or she is old enough to participate.
  • Teach your child to turn off the water and gas at your home, and encourage him to demonstrate (without actually turning it off) at his mom/dad’s, or to ask his other parent(s) to show him how it’s done at that home.
  • Be sure your ex’s contact information is in your wallet, cell phone, etc. at all times should you be injured. Also make sure your child has all necessary cell phone numbers and addresses memorized.
  • Make sure you have an out-of-area phone contact to call and give your status in an emergency, and establish one for you, your child and your ex to use as well. It’s usually easier to call out-of-state than locally after an emergency. Something to do with phone circuits.
  • Make sure your child, if old enough, knows his or her way home from school, and knows which neighbors to go to if nobody’s home.
  • If your child is on special medications, be sure his school has an emergency supply to last a min. 72 hours.
  • If your child’s school allows, have them store an emergency bag for your child.

I’d really, really, really like to hear feedback on this topic in the comments section. Please let us know your own tips and plans, because every situation is different!