Navigating the Return to School for Divorced Parents

This past year has been tumultuous, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the globe. If you’re divorced and attempting to co-parent in the midst of the turmoil, the effort to maintain a sense of normalcy or consistency has likely been difficult, or even impossible.

In particular, schools have made a lot of changes, as children faced a new environment attending in person, online, or a hybrid of those. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines suggestion a distance of 3 to 6 feet between students, depending on the transmission level in a community, and many students are headed back to a physical school building. (For quick reference, check ABC15’s status list for Arizona school districts.)

As you figure out your children’s education plans with your co-parent, here are a few tips:

Communicate Openly

To keep things amicable, HelpGuide suggests co-parents practice good communication skills, including listening with the intent to understand, making requests rather than demands, showing restraint, committing to keeping in consistent contact with each other, and staying kid-focused during crucial conversations.

Update Your Custody Agreement, If Needed

With your children’s schooling schedule changing, you may have to head back to court to iron out a new custody arrangement. You can do this even with a permanent custody agreement, if one of you has had a substantial or material change in circumstances. An example of this can include a school changing from online to hybrid or in-person learning, or an employment change that affects your or your ex’s ability to care for your children.

It is generally less expensive and in everyone’s best interest to avoid a court hearing and, instead, use a mediator, especially if you’re concerned that a judge’s decision will leave both of you unhappy.

“Everyone has a different risk tolerance with COVID and this is a decision with no right answer,” according to the National Law Review. “ A mediator can provide feedback and suggestions and offer a safe environment for you and your ex to trade ideas and work out a custody plan that works for everyone.

Keep Agreements Above Board

Unofficial changes to your custody agreement can be tricky because anything that deviates from the original court order is not legally enforceable. That could be a problem if you disagree about your arrangement in the future.

As for legal adjustments, think carefully about what you want, as they can be time-consuming and difficult to revert if one spouse does not agree with a change. For example, changing custodial parents to take advantage of a school district with the type of learning option you want could backfire in the long run, if you were hoping to return to what you had after a few months.

“It can be argued that a precedent has been set for a permanent change to school and parenting time,” according to the National Law Review.

Recalculate Child Support

Whether your kids head to school full- or part-time or are still learning from home, you might need to pay for childcare. That cost may be reflected in child support payments paid by the non-custodial parent. The Arizona Courts website gives information about how child support is calculated and how much is based on childcare costs.

If you need legal help navigating co-parenting as your kids return to school, visit DeShonPullenLaw.com or call (602) 252-1968 for more information and to schedule a consultation with an expert family law attorney.

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