Co-parenting Decisions For School During COVID-19

Mother putting face mask on child going to school during COVID-19
Mother putting face mask on child going to school during COVID-19

For many people, there never has been a more challenging time to co-parent! COVID-19 keeps changing everything including work, school and daycare. Many schools still haven’t identified final plans even though school is expected to start in just a few short weeks. Making matters more difficult is that parenting plans and the courts never anticipated dealing with a pandemic.

Even in situations where parents have co-parented well, sudden school or COVID-19 changes can lead to co-parenting challenges.

Consequently, making plans now for school during COVID-19, even if you don’t yet know what decisions the school will be making, can be helpful and important for the whole family.

Here is a process to walk you through some of the decision points regarding schooling during COVID-19.

Step 1: Know Your Agreements and Orders

Signing an agreement.

First, make sure to read your parenting plan, other parenting agreements and orders. These documents are what guide your decisions unless parents agree otherwise!

Keep in mind that we have never seen a parenting plan that contemplated how co-parenting and schooling would happen specifically during a pandemic. This means that there are likely situations that will come up that nobody ever thought to plan for. It’s just the reality of the unique situation we are in.

Step 2: Check For Special COVID-19 Court Orders

Second, check the standing administrative orders in the circuit court where your case is and verify if they have a COVID-19 standing administrative order in place regarding co-parenting. They can and do change as local COVID-19 circumstances change so check back periodically.

Judge's gavel

Several circuit courts have issued standing orders in the past to deal with many common situations that have occurred during COVID-19, and stay-at-home orders, if parents cannot agree. In addition, some have outlined how and when you can take COVID-19 co-parenting disputes to court. Many court websites have special pages where they post COVID-19 news and updates. If you are not sure if your circuit court has any special orders, call the Clerk of Court where your case is or ask your attorney.

Step 3: Check School Procedures

Check your local school policies and procedures related to Coronavirus. What options will they be allowing?

Many may allow parents to make decisions for what is best for their children. This is great as long as you agree, but can be contentious if the parents cannot agree what is best for their children.

If the children are in any type of counseling, consult with their counselor to see if they have any specific recommendations.

Step 4: Identify Potential Problems

Magnifying glass looking at coronavirus

Next, start thinking about the possible COVID-19 related problems you may face in co-parenting during school. The goal of this exercise is to try to identify potential problems and address them early. There is no single solution for everyone because every co-parenting circumstance and plan is unique.

Here are potential situations to help you get started identifying potential problems:

  • Nontraditional school hours. Many parenting plans have schedules and child exchanges that revolve around school hours. What if that becomes completely changed by the school, are different on each day, or completely change mid-year?
  • Distance schooling. What will happen if the kids need to learn fully or partially from home? What if that plan changes during the school year?
  • What if the school locations change? Some schools are proposing changes that involve attending different schools on different days of the week and combing that with virtual learning. This may involve extra travel or travel at new times of the day.
  • What happens if school closes due to an outbreak or a stay-at-home order is issued?
  • What are you going to do if one of the parents or children has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or tests positive themselves?
  • What would happen if one parent is quarantined and unable to provide care or transportation of children?
  • When is it appropriate to have the children tested? Who is going to pay for it?
  • Working from home with the children. What do you need to do to work and take care of your children?
  • Are there unanticipated daycare needs during this time? Who will be paying for that?
  • What if your daycare, family or friends who care for the children are temporarily or permanently unable to provide the care? Do you have a backup plan?
  • Are there parenting style differences related to COVID-19 that might become a problem? An example is one parent is very cautious and the other is very permissive with COVID-19 protocols.
  • Are there high risk COVID-19 members of either household that need to be considered?
  • Are the children involved in any activities that also need to be considered?
  • If your family had to quarantine, what might that look like for your household? Will there be make up time-sharing for the other parent? How will the parents be able to maintain communication via telephone, video or other methods with the children?

Step 5: Make Plans

If you have identified any potential problems with schooling and co-parenting, now is the time to make plans! Ideally, it would be best to sit down with the other parent and make some joint decisions about how to handle the events if they occur.

Waiting until you have to make the decision can add unnecessary stress and pressure. Sometimes you may only have hours or days to make these decision with the the other parent. This can be challenging even when you cooperate well.

Hands holding checklist of COVID-19 school items marked with check

Once you have developed a plan, and if you are in full agreement with the plan, it may be wise to communicate and agree to the plan in writing with the other parent.

If the other parent is resistant to making plans, then it is still a good idea for you to decide how you plan to react. In some cases, it may even make sense to communicate those plans to the other parent now, in advance, so it is not a surprise.

Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that if parents can’t agree on changes to the parenting plan, the parenting plan ordered by court, and any COVID-19 administrative orders, should be abided by until changed by the court.

Litigating co-parenting disputes can be a long road and are rarely considered an emergency or urgent situation by the courts. Some COVID-19 administrative orders may even limit litigation as court capacity is reduced.

Be prepared for children to ask you what your plans are. It will surely make them feel better to know you have thought it out, have a plan, and can reassure them that they will be fine.

Finally, be proactive, be kind, and be flexible during this difficult time. The children’s best interest should come first.