The COVID-19 pandemic struck the world in early 2020, and it caused a change of life for many. Between lockdowns, mask mandates, online schooling and supply chain issues, it’s been difficult to navigate this new normal. It’s also brought about strong feelings on both sides, and this can cause coparenting challenges if you and the other parent aren’t on the same page.
It can be confusing in a coparenting situation to know who gets to make the final decisions on which issues if both parents don’t agree, but understanding the processes the family courts have for this is important. Below, we take a look at some of the common coparenting decisions that have come up with COVID-19 and discuss who gets to make these decisions and what you can do if you want to change that.
The guidelines around COVID-19 continue to change, and it can be difficult to keep up with what the latest recommendations are. However, there are two main areas that COVID-19 has affected when it comes to coparenting and your children: education and medical decisions. Here are a few of the common decisions parents are facing right now.
When COVID-19 caused many schools to go virtual in 2020, it created a unique challenge for parents. They were suddenly faced with trying to make sure their children were learning and staying up with schoolwork while also navigating their own jobs and the general changes to the world. Some parents found that they really enjoyed the time they had with their children or were surprised at how much time children were just staring at a screen and not really learning in virtual school. Even as schools went back to in-person school, mask mandates, vaccine recommendations and COVID-19 guidelines also had some parents wondering if it was the best choice for their family.
But what happens if you think your children should go to in-person school but the other parent is very against it and wants to do online school or homeschool? This isn’t something that really lends itself to compromise, and it can be something that both parents feel equally strongly about.
As of October 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine was available for those aged 13 and up, but trials were in process for vaccines for younger children. Whether your child gets a vaccine is a medical decision, and it can be very difficult to navigate if you and the other parent aren’t on the same page. It can also create issues if one parent is vaccinating their family and the other parent isn’t. What happens to the joint children as they go between houses? This issue can have far-reaching consequences into visitation schedules and can cause a great deal of conflict between the coparents.
Masking is a major debate in some countries, including the United States where it has become a political issue with extreme and vocal opinions on either side. Usually, the children actually have far less strong of an opinion on this subject than the parents do, but if the parents do disagree on this matter, it can put the child in the middle and create conflict. While some parents may take a stand of letting each parent choose whether or not to have the child wear a mask during their parenting time, this issue can also affect where the child goes to school and what extracurricular activities they can participate in.
The original COVID-19 strain didn’t seem to affect children in the same way it did adults, but variants such as Delta have started to change that. More children are getting sick with the virus, and even if they don’t get severely ill, it can cause some problems. For example, will the child continue to follow the normal visitation schedule when they’re sick? This is common, but what happens if the other parent doesn’t want to risk bringing COVID-19 into their household.
If your child is one of the few who gets severely ill, you may also be facing significant challenges in who gets to visit the child at the hospital and who will get to make the decisions regarding the child’s method of care.
Who gets to make medical and educational decisions is determined by what kind of custody you have and if there are any specifics in your custody order or parenting plan. You’ll want to look at what your papers say about legal custody. It’s common to get confused between legal and physical custody. Physical custody is time sharing and visitation schedules; legal custody is the basis for decision-making.
If one parent has sole legal custody, then that’s the parent who has the right to make education and medical decisions for the children. If the other parent disagrees strongly enough, they can bring it to the courts, but there is a large burden on them to prove that there is some reason that the custodial parent is acting outside of the child’s interests.
If you have joint legal custody with the other parent and there are no specific provisions in your parenting plan about who gets to make these decisions, the bottom line is that the court expects you to come to an agreement on your own. If you can’t, your option is to go to court. While the judge may order you into mediation, these situations usually end in a lengthy trial where both parents present their cases and then the judge makes the final call on what will happen.
As you navigate these new challenges that are coming up with COVID-19, you may realize that there are some specific points in your parenting plan or custody agreement that need to be amended or that there are new things you want to include. In this case, you’ll need to file a motion to go before a judge and have the agreement officially changed. If you and the other parent agree to the changes, it can be as simple as filing a joint motion. The courts generally are willing to adopt changes that both parents agree on. However, if you want something changed and the other parent doesn’t, it can mean having to go all the way through the family court system.
Keep in mind that any time you go through the family court system, it can be extremely stressful for both the parents and the children. It’s almost always best to try to come to an agreement with the other parent or try lower-conflict options, such as mediation. It’s also important to remember that both you and the other parent only have the children’s best interests at heart, and while you may have different opinions on what supports that, it can help to keep that in the back of your mind as you navigate these discussions.
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