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  • Laura L. Van Tassel, Esq.

Back to School and Coparenting During COVID-19

COVID-19’s arrival, it has changed nearly everything in daily life. Parenting during the pandemic has been tough enough up to this point, but now many parents are being forced to make difficult decisions about how their child will attend school in the fall. There is no rule book for something like this as this matter is unprecedented. The options are enough to make any parent's head spin.

While every part of the country is known for its own specific way of doing things, what school looks like this fall is going to depend heavily on where you’re located. Here in New Jersey, every school must reopen in accordance with the health and safety guidelines outlined in the State's reopening guidance, but this is a challenge for many school districts. Parents will have the option to choose all-remote learning for their children.

If you are a divorced parent who shares custody of your children, then you have another complicated layer to add to an already difficult decision. While navigating co-parenting during the coronavirus, there is no doubt you are feeling some stress and anxiety. I get that communication may be difficult if you are in a high-conflict relationship with your ex however, it is critical that you both put those feelings aside and focus on the most important issues — the health and wellbeing of everyone. 

Common issues co-parenting families are facing with going back to school during the coronavirus is communication and messaging. Ensure that both of you are using the same messaging. Have honest, fact-based conversations with your children, but try to keep information simple. Remind them that both parents and all health and school officials will do everything they can to keep them safe. Once you’re on the same page about how to communicate the facts of COVID-19 to your children, it’s time to talk about how the pandemic will or will not affect your co-parenting agreement. 

The Child Study Center hosts educational webinars throughout the year. In its recent webinar, Divorce, Co-Parenting, and COVID-19: Challenges and Opportunities, Dr. Charuvastra offers advice for divorced or separated parents who are facing unique challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch here.

7 Rules for Co-Parenting During COVID-19

Recently, leaders from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and Association of Family and Conciliation Courts released new guidelines for co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. Titled “Suggested Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” these are helpful reminders for co-parents to follow during this time of social distancing, disaster, and global pandemic. The seven rules provide clarity and practical advice for how to handle court orders and

custody agreements during states of emergency. They call for empathy and generosity—things our children need to see and feel right now.

In times of crisis, rather than following strict rules and regulations, people are the

priority. The recommended guidelines are as follows:

1. Be Healthy. Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good

behavior for your children with intensive hand-washing, wiping down surfaces and other

objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means

BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.

2. Be Mindful. Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm

attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in

time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to

endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave CNN on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.

3. Be Compliant with court orders and custody agreements. As much as possible, try to

avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement

or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions, there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed,

custody agreements should remain in force as though school was still in session.

4. Be Creative. At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums, and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Zoom.

5. Be Transparent. Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly, both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.

6. Be Generous. Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take serious concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.

7. Be Understanding. There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.

Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. The most harmful behavior in the long-term is a refusal to be sensible, and focused on the children. For many children, the strange days of the COVID-19 pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening, and to keep their children safe.

Your Trusted Partner

Whether you’re contemplating a divorce, have already started the process, or are far into the proceedings, do you wish you had someone to share with you the inside scoop on how to save money, time and emotional energy on your divorce? I am available for a complimentary virtual consultation to discuss the many scenarios, options, and implications of separation or divorce, via telephone or video conference during this time. 

Feel free to get in touch with me; I am here for you!


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