School is Starting Soon and My Ex and I Cannot Agree on In-Person or Virtual Learning. What Do We Do?
There is a lot of discussion in the news about schools reopening and whether kids will attend in-person, virtually, or a combination. While many are giving parents the choice of in-person learning or virtual learning, what happens if there is a choice and you and your child’s other parent cannot agree?
Who Has Legal Custody?
This is going to depend on whether you and your co-parent have joint legal custody or if one of you has sole legal custody. Legal custody has to do with making major decisions for your children. Major decisions are made by the parent or parents with legal custody. The following are examples of major decisions: the choice or change of schools, including college or special tutoring; choice or change of physician, surgeon or dentist; religious instruction, training or education; selection of child care providers; major medical care, surgery, or any medical procedure requiring hospitalization or out-patient surgery; major dental work and orthodontia; psychological or psychiatric treatment or counseling; the choice or change of camps or other special or extracurricular activities; the extent of any travel away from home; part or full-time employment; purchase or operation of a motor vehicle; contraception and sex education; actual or potential litigation on behalf of the children.
The decision of in-person learning or virtual learning is a major decision. If you and your child’s co-parent have joint legal custody, the two of you must agree on this. If you have sole legal custody, that means you are the parent with legal custody and you get to make the decision.
Joint Custody and Can’t Agree?
What happens if you have joint legal custody and you have safety concerns and want your children to stay home, while your ex wants the children to go to school? You are at an impasse. If your school district is not offering a choice for parents one of you may be thinking about a change of schools. There is often a provision in your parenting plan that states that you will mediate any disputes, however, school is starting in 3 weeks. It may be difficult to get in with a mediator in that time frame, especially if there is a specific mediator written into your parenting plan. Forget filing a Motion to Modify your judgment with the court, it could be this time next year before that is resolved.
The first thing you should try to do is (if you can) sit down with your co-parent and discuss in-person learning versus virtual learning. Each of you has reasons for your preference and you should each hear the other parent’s reasons fully, and write down each parent’s reasons and viewpoints. One of you may have an elderly or high-risk relative living in the home. One of you may have a work schedule that may not allow for children to be home during the day. Your child may have a condition that makes him or her high risk or you may need to come up with some creative ways to deal with the situation. If your ex cannot be home with the kids during the day but you can work from home, you may need to go pick them up at his or her house each morning and drop them off at the end of the day. Or, you and your co-parent may need to share costs of child care for a parent that cannot be home with the kids. If you decide the kids will attend in-person learning it is a good idea to come up with a plan for picking up a sick child, and how to handle a potential quarantine, as well as school drop-offs and pickups if the buses are not running the way they used to. If the school has children going to school a few days out of the week, you may need to swap some days with your ex to make sure that there is someone home with the kids on their virtual learning days.
Do My Changes Need to Go Through Court?
Since they are likely to be temporary, there should not be a need to reopen your case and modify. However, you may want to have any changes (especially if it involves money or changes to custody time) put in writing and signed by each parent. A family law attorney can help with this and offer some creative ideas to solve the issues. In these uncertain times, so many things come up that none of us ever planned for when working out a parenting plan.
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