Your Custody Plan and Virtual Schooling
For parents living in San Diego, the past few months have been extremely confusing regarding school re-openings. It was only recently that the county unveiled its decision to allow each individual school to choose whether or not to reopen. While some have chosen to continue distance learning, others have chosen a combination of in-class teaching and virtual schooling. In fact, the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) has decided to remain closed for in-person classes for the Fall 2020 school year and require students to continue distance learning for the remainder of the year for most students.
In any situation, parents are likely feeling stressed about how to move forward into the Fall 2020 semester. For divorced parents, it may have meant a return to traditional custody schedules, but for many, that has likely not been the case.
How Quarantine Has Affected Custody Schedules
Legally speaking, parents are still expected to abide by custody plans during the COVID-19 outbreak. This means that if your custody plan says that you have physical custody during the school year, then the child should reside with you. However, many divorced parents were forced to reconsider a temporary change during quarantine as they adjusted to new restrictions.
Parents may have modified their custody schedules so that they could minimize the risk of exposing their child to the virus. This may have taken many forms, such as limiting visitation to either parents’ home instead of public places or virtual visitation through Zoom or Facetime. California courts have even prepared virtual visitation guidelines to help parents and children to adjust to modified schedules. Some may have been put in a difficult situation where one parent received more time with a child than the other, often to protect the child from becoming infected with COVID-19.
There was some hope that the Fall 2020 school semester would mean a return to normal schedules as schools reopened. Sadly, that is not the case, and many parents may have to continue with a modified schedule into 2021. In addition, this may lead to further disputes about whether or not a child should return to school or continue virtual learning. While SDUSD has a hybrid plan of distance learning education and limited in-person instructions, many private schools have applied for waivers to reopen. So, there are some schools that may allow kids to return.
But what if one parent doesn’t feel that it is safe? What if they would prefer that the child should continue distance learning, but the other parent does not?
Well, in California, that decision is up to who has legal custody. In some cases, one parent will have physical custody, meaning the child will primarily live with them, while the other parent has legal custody where they get to make decisions about the child’s education. That means that whoever has legal custody has the final decision. However, many parents also have joint custody agreements where both parents have legal custody, meaning they must come to a consensus. So, how do parents resolve such an argument?
Can the Courts Get Involved?
San Diego courts prefer that parents resolve issues without getting a judge involved, oftentimes through mediation, but parents can petition the court to act as a tiebreaker. If you and the other parent cannot agree about a custody plan during quarantine or where a child should attend school, then a judge can review both arguments and make a decision. This is often not ideal, as these decisions can be considered final and difficult to overturn.
Generally, courts do not rule in favor of homeschooling a child if they have already attended school, but virtual schooling is another case altogether. A judge may determine that virtual schooling may be the safest option for your child and suggest modifying physical custody agreements so that the child can learn in the best possible situation. However, judges do understand that many parents are in a difficult situation now and may be losing out on visitation time, so they work with you to develop a plan that allows you to spend time with your child, either virtually or in-person.
School disputes and custody plans are difficult situations for divorced parents to contend with, especially during a pandemic. That is why, if you require legal guidance about how to modify a custody plan due to COVID-19 restrictions, you should speak to an experienced San Diego child custody attorney. The rules and requirements may seem extremely confusing right now, and you will want sound legal counsel at your side if you and your child’s other parent have a dispute. But the legal team at Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C. can provide that guidance. To schedule a free consultation to discuss your case, call our office at (858) 458-9500.