Co-parenting is often fraught with complications and opposing viewpoints. The pandemic has significantly exacerbated co-parenting difficulties in many families. This is especially true when it comes to the emotional and consequential decisions surrounding the return to school this fall.
As school districts attempt to prepare for the school year amid the fluctuating guidance set forth by government officials and public health experts, parents are expected to commit to new learning plans. Many districts are offering a choice of in-person or remote learning or some combination of the two. Some areas are re-opening in phases with only some students returning. Some districts are re-opening with a temporary online-only approach to learning until local health conditions improve.
Amid the variety of leaning methods, many districts are giving parents the choice to sign their kids up for the option that best fits the needs of their families. The choice is complicated by disparate interests, such as educational needs, health concerns, as well as social and emotional development concerns. If co-parents have concerns about their current child custody arrangements, it may be necessary to make modifications for the school year.
Which Parent Makes the Final Decision on Education?
Child custody agreements usually state which parent has the authority to make educational decisions for the child. However, many agreements state that both parents share these rights and must make decisions together. When this is impossible, the matter may be brought before a judge to decide the outcome.
When a judge is involved, they are likely to be inclined to go along with the local government guidance on the matter. If the state or local authorities recommend an in-person learning method, then the judge will probably recommend that as the best option for the child.
Which Parent Pays for Educational Costs?
If a child is enrolled in daycare or private school before the pandemic, then the arrangement and the payments should be unaffected by the recent developments.
A co-parent may be concerned about costs being modified because of the pandemic, but the stipulations for shared costs expressed in the co-parenting plan should be clear. Any new or altered payment understanding should be made official with a sign-off from a judge to validate the new arrangement.
If one parent’s income has been affected because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), there may be reason to revisit the payment plan. Any official change to the legal responsibilities of both parents will need to be sanctioned by a judge. Unemployment does not change the agreement unless the court grants a change, which would only happen if the unemployed parent petitions the court. The court is under no obligation to do so since it may unfairly infringe on the finances of the other parent.
What if a Co-Parent Refuses to Support Remote Learning?
As some school districts start the school year with a completely remote online learning model, parents may not have much choice but to accommodate and support their child from home.
If one parent refuses to do so, the other parent cannot force them to help. However, since supporting a child’s learning is a required for any custody arrangement, it may be a sufficient basis to ask the judge to make temporary adjustments.
What if a Co-Parent Disagrees About Safety Protocols?
If one parent disagrees with the other parent on safety matters, like mask wearing and social distancing, a parent may not have much control over the rules in play at the other parent’s house. However, if one learns that a co-parent’s decisions are putting the child in significant danger, one has the right to file a motion to a judge.
A parent who puts a child in danger while defying government mandates may have their custodial rights restricted or revoked. For example, a parent having large parties and indoor gatherings may have their custodial rights modified because their actions put their child at risk.
What Should Co-Parents Discuss About the Upcoming School Session?
Even in the most harmonious co-parenting situations, each school year brings new challenges to address. This year, there will be many new topics to discuss.
Schools in many areas are incorporating truncated in-school hours, making it necessary for parents to make arrangements for the hours their children will spend in school. Some schools will only be open for certain students on specific days, making it difficult for co-parents to work out a school routine that works in two different homes.
Working together is in the best interest of a child, especially since the divorce process is already difficult for the child. Co-parents should make an effort to share an online calendar that makes it clear to both co-parents what is on the child’s schedule and which parent is in charge.
How Should Virtual Learning Expenses be Handled?
Schools across the United States are making plans for some type of virtual learning this school year. This is the situation for schools that are opening with remote learning or those incorporating a hybrid model, as well as schools making contingency plans in case an outbreak pushes classes online.
As schools move to online learning, students will need the technology and access to support this learning model. Parents may need to purchase an internet accessible device for their child. A child learning online will also need a dependable internet connection. These things may significantly impact the school supplies budget. Co-parents should reach an agreement on technology-related costs.
Should Parents Discuss a Contingency Plan for COVID-19?
Preparation is key to avoid problems that will threaten the delicate balance in two-home families. In the era of COVID-19, however, being prepared is more important than ever.
Co-parents should discuss the topic of what happens if their child is exposed to the virus or tests positive. If the child needs to be quarantined after an exposure, co-parents should have a plan for how their child will be cared for.
Also, co-parents should have a discussion about what will need to change if one or both co-parents test positive for COVID-19. Co-parents should have a plan they can work with to ensure that their child’s care is consistent, even if one of them is temporarily unavailable to actively participate.
If co-parents need to make modifications to child custody arrangements, it is important that they speak to a lawyer. A lawyer will help co-parents come to a fair agreement on their parenting plan.
Huntsville Divorce Lawyers at Hodges Trial Lawyers, P.C. Represent Co-Parents Seeking to Remedy Back-to-School Issues
If you are having difficulties with your parenting partner, it is advisable to speak to a knowledgeable lawyer. Our Huntsville divorce lawyers at Hodges Trial Lawyers, P.C. will help you construct a parenting plan for this fall so that your child’s health, safety, and educational goals are protected. Complete our online form or call us at 256-539-3110 for an initial consultation. Located in Huntsville and Athens, Alabama, we serve clients throughout North Alabama, Madison County, Limestone County, Marshall County, Jackson County, Morgan County, and Lauderdale County.