By Thacker Sleight
How should ex-spouses deal with disagreements over their choice of COVID school options for their children?
If your child’s school offers the option of in school or online learning and the parents can’t agree who makes the final decision?
Parents are wondering how their children will react to wearing masks for hours, how safe protocols will be enforced, and will the kids be freaked out by all the changes? Parents are also concerned not only with the health impact of COVID on their children but how this affects them mentally and their social development.
There is no easy answer.
Currently, the law requires joint legal parents to follow the pre-existing child custody order. If the existing order included in-person school attendance, that manner of attendance has become part of the established custodial routine and arguably needs to be followed. However, if your order is before COVID, then COVID may be a change in circumstances, enough to get the issue before the court to make a decision.
If the governor, the school board, and the local health department say it is safe to return, how do you prove that it is not? Does the parent who objects to sending the child back to school need the testimony of a mental health professional who may answer that anxiety would be harmful to the child? Or a medical doctor if your child has a breathing condition or a depressed Immune system?
A hybrid approach might be a good option. The child will enjoy the benefit of interpersonal contact from going to school a portion of the day/week, and online learning the rest of the day/week. By learning both ways, the child should be prepared for a recurrence of this pandemic or the next one. This hybrid solution could also permit the parents to have the child educated the way they prefer during their parenting time.
However, suppose one parent would be much more dramatically affected than the other. In that case, that is a circumstance that would require consideration. An example would be parent “A” wanting to switch to a hybrid model over the objection of parent “B” who is co-parenting from out of state. Parent B might want in-person attendance, but parent A has the child for the entire school year, so parent A’s parenting time was solely affected.
We certainly hope most parents will be able to work together with the school, pediatricians, the child, and mental health professionals to find a solution in the child’s best interest.
If you cannot agree and have joint legal custody, the court will decide for you, so don’t wait to call us.