How do you create stability during a time of uncertainty? After nearly a year, we had all hoped that things would be back to normal by now. We especially had hoped that our children would be able to return to the classroom. The past year has been difficult for parents and children alike. As schools moved to online instruction, families scrambled to figure out how to support their children's education while also working and keeping their homes running smoothly. This process was especially difficult for two-household families, where children often move back and forth between homes.
As of January 14, 2021, San Diego Unified announced that they will remain closed indefinitely while California experiences one of the worst COVID-19 surges to date. This was incredibly difficult to hear, especially after many parents and children looked forward to the original plan to re-open schools this month. However, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom's guidelines, schools are not allowed to re-open for in-person instruction while the county has a case rate above 28 per 100,000 residents. As of January 12, 2021, San Diego County has an adjusted case rate of 69.7 per 100,000.
Stay-at-home orders and online instruction have placed unprecedented stress on co-parents. Figuring out the best way to support their children's education while also adhering to custody arrangements has become remarkably complicated. Often, previous arrangements for taking children to and from school and moving between both households are inadequate. Parents have had to be incredibly flexible and adapt to these sudden changes on the fly.
Below, we offer a few tips to help parents as they and their children face another semester of online instruction.
This may sound simple, but working to stay in regular communication with your co-parent can make this difficult situation a bit easier. If you and your child's parent are on good enough terms, you can try scheduling regular calls to discuss what is going on with your child's schooling and discuss challenges. Make sure to discuss your plans should the schools remain closed for the rest of the year. While we all hope this will not be the case, having an idea of what you and your co-parent will do should this happen can help you feel more secure and prepared for a worst-case scenario.
Though communicating with an ex-partner can be challenging, try to stay focused on your children and how you can work together to support them. When the conversation veers off course, try to guide it back to the topic of your children and their schooling. If your former spouse expresses frustration with the situation or wants to discuss a challenge they are facing, give them the space to talk. Even if you disagree, letting them speak can help keep the conversation calm and productive. It might also encourage them to extend the same courtesy to you.
If you are not already, you should absolutely follow your child's school district on social media. Most schools are great about updating parents. However, it is easy to overlook important information when sifting through newsletters and notes from teachers, not to mention dealing with your own work. Schools often post important updates on their social media channels. Following and making a habit of checking these channels can help you stay on top of what is going on.
Additionally, you should set up a google alert for your school district so that you get notified any time they are in the news. This can help you stay up to date with what is going on. You can then share this information with your co-parent when you are making plans. The more information you both have, the easier it will be to respond to changes as they happen.
If your children are old enough, you can also include them in these discussions. Many children struggle with the isolation of at-home learning and may find the online platform not conducive to their learning needs. Ask your kids what is working for them and what is not. They may have ideas of their own that you and your co-parent can implement.
For example, if they tell you that they have difficulty focusing, you may be able to break up their school day with more frequent breaks to avoid fatigue. Similarly, if the school's online instruction format supports it, you and your children may agree to alter their schooling hours to fit the family's schedule better.
Additionally, stay in contact with your kids' teachers. Most teachers are passionate about education and put in an enormous effort to make online learning beneficial and engaging for students. If your child is struggling, their teacher may have some good ideas for how you can support them at home.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that their teachers do not have a full picture of your child's life. If your child is in conflict with a teacher or has another issue, keeping their teachers in the loop can help alleviate and remedy the situation.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of problems for families with shared custody arrangements. California courts have also recognized the extreme stress the current public health crisis has placed on families and that custody and visitation arrangements may be affected. This is especially the case for those who have school-age children who now need to access their courses online.
For example, if you and your former spouse are essential workers, you may be struggling to find a caregiver to be with your children during the day. Similarly, even if a parent can work from home, the nature of their job may not enable them to monitor their children's schoolwork simultaneously. When this happens, parents should work together and approach the issue with a flexible, open mind. Depending on the terms in your custody agreement, you and your co-parent may have the flexibility to adjust your visitation schedule so that it better meets your needs.
Common solutions include one parent taking the child during school hours each day, even when they have overnights with the other parent. Another option is to amend a 50/50 agreement to temporarily have the children stay with one parent during the week and the other parent on the weekends. When this happens, some parents have agreed to make-up time at a later date for the parent who gave up some of their time during the school year for the good of the child.
If you find that your current schedule is inadequate, you and your co-parent can work together to form a temporary written agreement to amend your current custody schedule to meet your children's needs better. According to the courts, if your local court is not currently open, make sure to save the written agreement and have it signed by a judge as soon as the courts re-open.
Significant changes that will need to be registered by the court include:
Sometimes, parents just can't agree despite both parties' best efforts. The coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented situation that we hope we will never experience again in our lifetimes. Custody disputes during the past year have been common, and sometimes the best thing you can do is stop fighting and reach out to your attorney.
A skilled lawyer, like ours at Cage & Miles, can help you with a wide range of issues. From reviewing your existing custody agreement to representing you in mediation to helping you seek custody modifications, an attorney can be an invaluable resource for you and your family. When you need it, do not be afraid to reach out for help. Our lawyers are prepared to assist you with your case.