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When Co-Parents Disagree Over Virginia Schooling Options During COVID-19

The reopening of Virginia schools after COVID-19 delays has come with mixed reactions from parents who are happy to see their kids back in class, but ambivalent about health and safety considerations. If you co-parent your child, you have added concerns about how various forms of instruction will affect your custody arrangement and parenting plan. Depending on where you live in Northern Virginia, your child may be conducting schooling remotely, in classrooms, or a hybrid of the two, as established by local officials and the Virginia Department of Education. As a result, co-parents may face heated disagreements over your options and which one is right for your child.

Generally speaking, the most effective strategy for making decisions on schooling is to work out a compromise on the available alternatives, based upon the child’s needs and each co-parent’s input. If you are already beyond this point, however, you need to understand the various factors that impact your situation. A Virginia child custody and visitation lawyer can advise you on your unique circumstances, but keep in mind the following legal concepts regarding schooling issues affected by COVID-19.

Any Schooling Option May Affect Parenting Agreements: The reality is that COVID-19 disruptions will probably impact child custody and visitation regardless of which option is central to the dispute. With remote learning, the child must be set up in terms of high-speed internet service and other technology requirements. If your work schedules can support it, he or she can attend classes from either parent’s home, so there may be limited changes to the parenting plan.

However, when the child will spend days with one parent for remote learning, you will need to address whether adjustments to custody and visitation are suitable.

Implications for Child Support Obligations: If there are modifications to the custody arrangement and visitation schedule, changes to child support may also be appropriate. The court’s current order was established through assessment of Virginia child support guidelines, specifically the provision on “custody share.” A hypothetical may serve as an example:

  • Because of the requirements of remote learning, it makes sense for the parent who currently pays child support to handle homeschooling.
  • The payor parent will now have more days of physical and/or residential custody, i.e., a higher percentage of custody share. He or she will incur higher costs as a result.
  • Under such circumstances, paying the other parent – who now has fewer days of custody share after a modification – runs contrary to the child support guidelines.
  • The pickups and dropoffs which previously occurred at school are no longer applicable and need to be adjusted

Assuming the new custody arrangement will continue through the school year or longer, parents can expect support obligations to be affected in this way.

Modifications for Routine and Special Occasion Visitation: Any time there are significant changes to custody, there must also be suitable adjustments to visitation. The modified routine visitation schedule will take into account weekdays, weekends, and weekday evenings. With various schooling options, there may be changes to the schedule for holidays and breaks. If one co-parent had travel plans that are now cancelled, this scenario will also be a factor.

Similar Considerations for Hybrid and In-Person Learning: While remote instruction has the potential to be the most disruptive to a parenting plan, the other options can also create conflicts. With both hybrid and in-classroom schooling, there may be transportation and work schedule issues. Plus, there is always the possibility that these options will go away if the COVID-19 infection rate becomes problematic. It is not unreasonable to think that some Northern Virginia counties may go 100 percent remote, no matter how the school year started.

Court Resolution of Custody and Visitation Issues: Ultimately, a judge will need to decide on disagreements over schooling options and the impact on custody. As always, Virginia’s statute on the child’s best interests is the paramount consideration. Keep these statutory factors in mind, as they will be the focus of a hearing on modifications to custody and visitation. The proceeding is similar to a trial, so each parent will be able to present evidence and testimony as to why the court should grant the proposed modification. The judge will make a determination by applying the facts to the child’s best interests factors.

Discuss Disagreements with a Virginia Child Custody and Visitation Attorney

It is important to understand these and other factors when co-parents disagree over COVID-19 related schooling, but the complexities should also make you realize that you need a skilled lawyer to represent your interests. To learn more about our legal services regarding child custody, please contact the Northern Virginia offices of Roop Xanttopoulos Babounakis PLLC. You can call 703-442-0040 or visit our website to set up a consultation.

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