COVID, Co-Parenting, and Back to School
As you, your ex, and your child prepare for the upcoming school year while COVID-19 is still around, there are a few things you should consider.
Back to school planning can be stressful, and perhaps more so for two household families. Even for separated and divorced parents who have worked out how to cooperate when it comes to their kids, back to school usually brings its own set of struggles. This year is no different as families face a new back to school challenge: COVID-19. As you, your ex, and your child prepare for the upcoming school year, there are a few things you should consider.
Things to Consider for Back to School Planning During COVID
1. Review Your Parenting Agreement or OrderIt is a good idea to review your custodial documents prior to the start of a new school year. For most families, these likely come in the form of a Parenting Agreement or Order. If the new school year will present new challenges (highly likely in 2020), communicate with your child’s other parent to address those challenges as quickly and effectively as possible. Each family is unique, and your Agreement or Order should reflect the circumstances you are facing. If it does not, now is the time to communicate with your co-parent and your attorney about modifications. Revisiting your Agreement or Order now may reduce scheduling problems during the school year. Each year transporting children to and from school, arranging after school care, and coordinating the children’s schedules for extracurricular activities present challenges for many co-parents. With the introduction of COVID-19 this year, things have gotten a bit more complicated. For many families virtual learning will create new obstacles regarding your child’s schedule, especially during the other parent’s parenting time. With some students attending school one day per week or only on certain days, or even only on certain weeks, establishing a routine may prove difficult. Consider sharing an electronic calendar, such as Google calendar, with the other parent so you both are clear about where the children are and who has what responsibilities. Also, look to your Parenting Agreement or Custody Order to ensure that you are following information sharing provisions, and talk with your family law attorney about making any modification or adjustments to your Order that are beneficial in addressing your family’s new circumstances. Additionally, be sure you are communicating with your child’s co-parent regarding school holidays and breaks. Last Spring, some parents were confused as to whether Spring Break and teacher “professional development” days and school holiday schedules outlined in their custodial documents should be followed when children were remote learning. If you have questions about this, review your custodial documents and begin conversations with your co-parent about this now. It is never too early to start planning ahead.
2. Talk to Your KidsMany adults are concerned about health-related uncertainties resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the many changes that have been implemented in response to the virus. Whether you know it or not, children feel the impact of these changes and likely have concerns as well. Now is the time to have age-appropriate, honest conversations with your children about what to expect, especially when it comes to back to school. There are a number of resources and articles dedicated to helping parents have conversations with children about the pandemic including information from the CDC, Mayo Clinic, Kids Health from Nemours, and PBS just to name a few.
3. School RecordsIn 2020, many families will be faced with remote or partially remote learning. Parents will be counted upon to communicate more with teachers regarding their student’s progress and assignments using virtual programs such as Google Classroom. It is critical that parents in two household families each have access to all school records, assignments, and platforms from which the teacher may communicate with students. Many Parenting Agreements and Custody Orders give both parents equal access to all school records, including homework assignments, school personnel contact information, report cards, progress reports, and test results. But pay special attention to any Orders and Agreements that require one parent to affirmatively provide school information and updates to the other. In those cases, it is best to overcommunicate with your child’s other parent regarding your child’s learning and school assignments and encourage your co-parent to communicate with your child’s school as well.
4. Emergency Contact InformationSpeaking of communicating with your child’s school, now is the time to update your emergency contact information. If possible, both parents should be listed as emergency contacts at the child’s school, given the COVID-19 pandemic and possibility of instances of the virus at school. Parents should have a plan in place for what happens in the event that there is an outbreak at their child’s school, the child contracts the virus, and what to do if either parent contracts COVID-19.
5. Plan Ahead for ExpensesIn this new age of virtual learning, school supplies and school related expenses look very different than just one year ago. What your child needs to be successful today may have changed drastically over the past several months. This year’s school supplies might include a computer, internet access, a quiet separate workspace, required software and applications for study, earphones, printer, and more. These supplies come with additional expenses that may be well beyond what was contemplated in your present child support calculation. Not only that, but both parents will need to ensure that regardless of where the child learns, the child has full access to everything they need. Planning for these expenses now and communicating with your co-parent in advance will help to ensure that your child has the tools they need to be successful this school year.
There’s an App for ThatThere are multiple apps, websites, and shared calendars that can be customized to fit your family’s needs. Whether you are looking for something simple and free like Google Calendar to help you plan ahead and stay on schedule, or you’re using Care.com to hire an in-home tutor (which may mean via Zoom), parents should know they don’t have to navigate the school year alone. Everyone wants to get an “A+” when it comes to being prepared for the school year. By working with your co-parent and your attorney you can help lay the foundation for success for your children. Make sure you are reviewing your custodial documents, and communicating with your child, your co-parent and your child’s school to make sure you and your child have an amazing school year no matter where the learning takes place!
Sodoma Law Attorney David Simmons practices Family Law in Charlotte, N.C. He provides legal counsel in a variety of cases including child custody and support, divorce, and alimony. He is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association and a recipient of the 2018 Avvo Client’s Choice Award. www.sodomalaw.com