How Does Virtual Learning Impact Your Current Parenting Plan?

undefinedBack 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-spouse, and your child adjust to this ever-changing  school year, here are a few things you should consider.

Review Your Parenting Plan

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 even more complicated.

For many families virtual learning will create new obstacles regarding their 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.

If you have questions about this, review your custodial documents and begin conversations with your co-parent about this now.

Deciding Which Learning Options are Best for the Child

Who gets to make this decision depends on the Custody Order and Parenting Plan. Generally, if the parties have a custody order granting them joint legal custody, then both parents must work together in deciding what option to select for their child - if options are given to them by the school district. If one parent has sole legal custody, that parent is usually able to make the decision independently.

Responsibility for Supervising the Child’s Distance Learning

If there is a custody order or parenting plan currently in place, the general rule would be that the responsibility to supervise the child would fall on the custodial parent that day. For example, if dad and mom share physical custody with a “week on/week off” schedule, then mom is responsible for supervising the children’s distance learning during her week on, while dad has the responsibility during his week on. On the other hand, if mom has primary physical custody and dad has visitation every other weekend from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening, then mom is responsible for supervising the children’s distance learning every day.

However, this does not preclude parents from working together to develop an alternative plan for their child’s distance learning.  For instance, one parent of the parents may have the ability to work from home or is currently out of work due to COVID-19. In that situation, parents can agree to have the distance learning occur in that parent’s home and take the lead in supervising the child’s distance learning.

School Records

In a distance learning  environment, parents are counted upon to continually communicate with teachers regarding their student’s progress and assignments, largely using virtual programs such as Zoom and Google Classroom.

It’s 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 plans 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.

When the custody order or parent plan requires one parent to affirmatively provide school information and updates to the other, it is best for that parent to overcommunicate with the other parent regarding their child’s learning and school assignments and encourage the co-parent to communicate with the child’s school as well.

Health Emergency Situations

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 also 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.

Distance Learning Expenses

In this new age of distance learning, school supplies and school related expenses look very different than before.  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 and parenting plan. Planning for these supplies and expenses, including ways to reduce costs by sharing some of the items, will require additional communication and agreements between the parents to help ensure that regardless of where the child learns, the child has full access to everything they need.

Adjustments to Parenting Time

Parents do not normally have to worry about parenting time when a child is at school, but distance learning means that parents may need to determine who will be with the child during their distance learning, if the child is too young to be left on their own. If the best situation for the child’s distance learning does not match their parenting plan, the parents will need to modify the plan to adjust to this.  Adjustments to the parenting plan can include deciding on specific dates and times for the “school day” and when and how transferring the child will occur, as well as considering adding parenting time to the non-supervising parent to balance times the child is with each of the parents.

Child Support Adjustments

There is no “one size fits all” answer here. This can be especially complicated when both parents are employed outside of the home and neither are able to work distanced. Some people will be forced to hire a tutor and/or a work-related childcare provider so they can work while their children learn, while others will quit their job to devote their time to guiding their children’s education. A change in a party’s income and/or a change in the amount of work-related childcare a party incurs can constitute a material change in circumstance, which could warrant a modification of child support.

Whatever the Problem Try to Work Together

Distance learning issues created by COVID-19 are not only new to parents, but to the courts as well.  Judges have long advised parents to work together when disagreement as to custody and visitation arise. If they can’t agree, Oregon courts will eventually base these decisions on the best interests of the child. In coming to this decision, they can factor in each parent’s ability to cooperate in and resolve disputes regarding matters affecting the child. It is therefore imperative that parents try to work together in the midst of this pandemic.

If you're needing to modify your parenting plan, please do not hesitate to contact our office at (503) 227-0200 to get started.