August 31st, 2020
Custody Orders and Distance Learning
Author: Julie B. Christopher
Normally the return to school is a busy time for families. Students look forward to seeing friends they have not seen over the summer, and parents anticipate a return to routine often absent during summer months.
On July 21, 2020, MCPS announced that school instruction would remain virtual for the first semester of the 2020-2021 academic year. This Fall now looks very different for families and students returning to school in an online distant learning environment at least until January 29, 2021.
For many divorced parents this also means navigating new exchange places and times. Like most aspects of daily living, COVID-19 has already impacted how parents conduct custody exchanges and virtual school is adding another layer of complexity. Custody orders and agreements often identify a time and place for child exchanges. Generally favored by the courts and child therapists alike, many parents’ custody exchanges occur through school. For kids, it is an easier transition, allowing the child to say goodbye to one parent, go to school, and then say hello to the other parent after school day is done. Parents reduce the contact with each other, particularly helpful when parents are still developing a new co-parenting relationship. For both parents and kids, school is a neutral location that reduces the stress and inconvenience of additional transitions, along with providing predictability to all.
If your custody order or agreement contemplates that exchanges will occur at school, there are several steps you can take for a smooth transition once school starts.
- First review your Order for the precise time and place of the exchange. If the time is defined as “after school,” check with your child’s school to find out what school hours are during this time of online learning and let this be the start of the discussion for transition times.
- Discuss with your co-parent where exchanges are going to occur. Will they occur at a parent’s house or will they move a new neutral location? Each have benefits and limitations. Discuss with your co-parent how each parent’s work life is impacted with virtual learning in determining whether new times and places are more practical and with an eye to avoiding interruptions to the school day for your child.
- Work towards compromise. If there was ever a climate when compromise important, it is during a global pandemic. Until recently, Maryland courts were closed to public, and they continue to work through a significant backlog. This means litigants are experiencing extremely long waiting times to be heard.
Talk to a professional. Seasoned family law attorneys can be a great resource to help families think creatively about generating child focused solutions to legal and practical issues that parents are increasingly experiencing during these uncertain COVID days.
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