Disputes over remote or in-person schooling for kids is the latest challenge facing divorced or separated parents in Colorado and around the nation.
Thousands of families across Colorado, many of whom are already reeling from the health and economic fallout of the Covid-19 crisis, are now facing the daunting decision of whether to send their kids physically back to schools this fall. This challenge is often much harder on divorced or separated parents. While there may not be many perfect legal solutions for this challenge in our state, there may be hope for those parents who engage in thoughtful planning and diligent attempts at collaboration.
In Colorado, parents are now receiving draft plans from their various school districts. Worse yet, some of these plans are changing as new information about the virus comes out each day. Most large school districts are requiring parents to make a clear choice in the coming weeks that will affect their kids’ attendance for a full semester or even the entire school year ahead. This is a stressful and emotional time for many families. For those parents and kids who are dealing with the uncertainty and strife caused by divorce and separation, this is an incredibly difficult time.
What to Do?
For parents who are separated, but not yet divorced, there are likely no court orders to address this situation. For these parents, it is critical to engage in direct conversation and, ideally, collaborative decision-making with their spouse if possible. If not, they should utilize other professionals such as lawyers, therapists, and mediators to help. Collaborative, empathetic dialogue is key. This positive and productive dialogue focuses on the facts of the decision at hand, and not the often-emotionally charged issues surrounding the marital breakup.
For parents who are already divorced, or already have “temporary orders” in place during an ongoing court case, there may be agreements or court orders on the issue of school choice. It is likely that this issue would be considered a “major” parenting decision. Thus, the parent with sole decision-making authority would generally be the one to make this decision. If the parties share decision-making, then they will be required to decide jointly or, if initially unsuccessful, left with the remedies below.
For those parents who are either unable to communicate and decide together, or who continue to disagree, the legal options are limited. Without an agreement or clear court order, it is generally the case that neither parent is entitled to unilaterally make this decision. In such cases, here are some tips which may be helpful:
- Protect Yourself with the School: Each parent needs to make sure that s/he is on the school email and contact list, and that all his or her information is current with the school district. This will at least ensure that each is fully informed and, where possible, each can provide input to school administrators.
- Seek Court Intervention: Each jurisdiction handles these cases differently. Sometimes, judges or magistrates within the same district may handle these cases differently. But, if you can file a motion for a hearing (even a telephonic or video hearing), you should do so. Get your motion (or court request) filed early and continue to pursue the options below. Note that, if you have not yet filed for divorce, separation or the allocation of parental responsibilities (child custody), you will need to do so and serve the other parent before you can file any motions. Note, however, that we are facing an unprecedented situation in the Colorado courts. Dockets are backlogged, many judges are only hearing “emergencies” or criminal cases with constitutional implications. Unfortunately, in many cases, parties are going to find that judges refuse to hear these cases because they are not deemed sufficiently urgent.
- Seek Informal Assistance: While waiting for a judge’s help, parents should continue to pursue any and all options for assistance from third parties. Sometimes, there is a mutually trusted relative, friend, co-worker, or even a clergy member. If both parties can put aside their animosity towards each other, and place their trust in this “friend”, they might find a compromise that each can live with.
- Seek Formal Assistance: If the parties can agree to, in good faith, work with a trained and strong therapist, mediator, or arbitrator, solutions can often be found. It is very important to engage in these efforts as soon as possible. There are plenty of qualified, such professionals who are offering their services online with technologies such as Zoom.
- Seek Compromise: The reality is that this is a situation where the child is either going to go to school or is going to be remote, and thus one parent’s wishes will not carry the day. But it is still very, very beneficial to compromise on a whole host of attendant issues that will make life easier for the parents and the kids. For example, perhaps the child does attend school in-person, but the parties put in place a clear plan on how to deal with certain contingencies, such as an outbreak, or a positive test of someone in the child’s contacts. On the flip side, perhaps the child is remote, but there is a clear plan on how the parents will mutually support that at-home learning, what protocols will be used to decide by a specified date on the next semester’s school attendance.
- When - Wednesday, August 5th at 4pm MDT
- Register - CLICK HERE
- Limited to the first 25 registrants
- Colorado residents only