Schools Reopening and Getting Back to Custody Schedules
As Pennsylvania counties have reached the green phases of reopening, serious discussions are being had about students returning to school and how to move forward. Some have chosen to implement hybrid models or maintain the virtual learning programs from the Spring semester, while others have reopened fully with new heatlh standards. For divorced parents, this may mean returning to a pre-COVID custody plan and normal schedule. However, what if one parent disagrees with a child returning to school? What if one does not want the plan to go back to normal?
Bonding During Lockdown
For some parents, lockdown meant a drastic shift in their custody plans. Typical custody plans involve a child staying with one parent for the school year and the other during school vacations. Or the child might move between homes every few weeks or every weekend. However, in order to keep the child from becoming infected with COVID-19, many had to stay home during the Spring 2020 school semester. In addition, one parent may have been an essential worker, meaning there was a risk that the virus could be brought home. Even travel restrictions came into play as some parents who lived in another state could not safely visit their child or have them visit during the summer break.
In these situations, both parents may have agreed to a temporary change to the custody plan in order to protect their child. This could involve the child staying primarily with one parent who may or may not have had sole physical custody. In turn, the other parent would have access to their child via Facetime or other online services. The parents may have also agreed to change the 2021 schedule around to make up for the lack of time the other parent had with the child.
It is still not fully clear how the lockdown has affected most parent-child relationships. Some parents may have gotten used to having their child around so often and benefited from the additional time together. There may have also been increased tension between either parent, such as arguments over scheduling Zoom or Facetime calls, or disagreements about how long they should both remain in lockdown.
Altogether, this can lead to disagreements about what custody plan parents should follow moving forward.
Returning to Normal Schedules
Legally speaking, both parents are required to abide by the custody plan as outlined by their family law court. That means if a Pennsylvania court never approved a change in the plan during lockdown, then the parents must continue following it under the law. Of course, courts can put in place temporary modifications or even emergency plans if they are concerned about the well-being of the child, but they will often respect both parents’ decisions to adjust the schedule outside of the courtroom.
As schools review the recommendations made by Governor Tom Wolf regarding school reopenings, there is a real possibility that your child’s school district will expect them to return to the classroom or use some form of virtual or hybrid schooling. While parents will ultimately have the final decision about where their child attends school and if they want to utilize an alternative like private tutors, homeschooling, or virtual learning, many rely on the school district for guidance in such situations. Coming up with the funds to pay for private tutors can be extremely difficult without a pandemic, much less a national recession. Thus, many parents may choose to send their child back to school or do virtual schooling based solely on finances.
This may lead to disagreements, as one parent may not want the child to return to school for fear of them becoming infected. Or there may be disagreements about custody plans, with one parent preferring the new system they put in place during lockdown. How to handle these disputes are not clear cut. While you may hope to come to a compromise with the other parent, the stress of lockdown and so many sudden changes can drive the desire to go back to a normal, familiar routine.
However, while some schools have reopened or utilized some type of hybrid or virtual schooling programs, Pennsylvania courtrooms have also begun to reopen. That means if you do have a custody dispute in Montgomery County, as of July 20, 2020, you may be able to present your case before a judge either in an in-person meeting if it is an emergency or in a virtual meeting if it is a non-emergency. There are still certain safety restrictions, but you still have the option of speaking to a judge about your case. You will want to have legal counsel review your situation and represent you if there is a disagreement. In addition, if there is a case of parental kidnapping, you may need to get law enforcement involved.
If you and your ex have a disagreement about your custody plan, then you should contact a Montgomery County family law attorney at the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C. Our lead attorney can walk you through your rights and help you to determine the best course of action for your child and you. Call us at (610) 645-0100 to schedule a free consultation.