With the back-to-school season looming, parents are scrambling to arrange online schooling for their kids due to COVID-19. In recent weeks, many parents have asked us how child custody may be impacted if they allow their ex or a stepparent to monitor schooling.
Other parents ask who gets to make decisions about homeschooling, changing schools or joining a tutoring co-op with friends.
Are decisions about online schooling stressing you out or leaving you concerned about child custody? While the best thing to do is contact your family law attorney to discuss your options ASAP, we offer some general insight below.
Should I make a verbal agreement with my child’s non-custodial parent to monitor online schooling?
The scenario looks something like this: You have primary custody (you’re primary or sole conservator) of your child but you work full-time and your child’s other parent (dad in this case) works from home. He has the flexibility to monitor your child’s online schooling—or the child’s stepmom who doesn’t work has offered to help. Should you go for it?
If you’re going to exercise self-help (like verbal agreements), it’s critical to speak with an attorney about the repercussions of doing so. This is especially true in situations where you have primary or sole custody and possession orders are already in place. Are you:
- Progressively allowing the other parent more possession and access?
- Changing who has the right to make decisions about education, medical care, etc. because it’s convenient?
- Allowing more and more unsupervised access when it’s not allowed?
When you disregard your custody and visitation orders and allow the other parent more flexibility, those actions could get you into trouble, especially if the other parent is hoping for a child custody modification.
For example, say you allow your child to spend more and more time at the other parent’s home, and that child decides she likes living with dad better. If she’s 13 or older, your ex could file to modify custody and possession based on your child’s preference, putting your role as primary or sole conservator at risk.
Even before the pandemic, these scenarios have always come up at the end of summer vacation time, after children have lived with their non-custodial parents for several weeks.
What makes these situations even stickier and more pressing now is parents risk getting stuck in a much bigger than normal wave of modifications due to backlogs in the family courts caused by COVID-19.
Issues may also arise if the time your child stays living full-time with the other parent keeps getting pushed out. Depending on the situation, that parent could assert that you’ve abdicated your parental responsibilities because he or she has been making decisions about the child’s education, medical care and so on.
Again, it’s vitally important to speak with your family law attorney about potential ramifications before using self-help—like verbal agreements—to resolve online schooling and other parenting challenges. If you live in Tarrant County, our divorce attorneys in Fort Worth are here to help.
I want to start homeschooling my child. I’m essentially doing that anyway with mandated online school. Do I have the right to make that choice?
Going from a full-time, in-person curriculum to online schooling only has created a lot of dissention in families in recent months. We’ve heard from many parents who either want to switch schools or start home schooling because their school district isn’t offering school on campus right now.
So what are your options? It largely depends on who has the right to make choices about education for your child. Education is one of several enumerated parental rights in the Texas Family Code. If you currently have custody and visitation orders in place, those orders should clarify what parental rights and responsibilities you hold regarding education.
If you agreed to let the other parent have exclusive rights to make decisions about your child’s education, the ball is in their court. If you have the exclusive right, the ball is in yours. On the other hand, if you and the other parent agreed to leave decisions about education subject to agreement—and you disagree about changing schools or homeschooling your child—the court will need to decide.
Co-parents, who don’t have orders in place and disagree on next steps, will also need to sort things out through the court system. We often see these issues arise with co-parents who were never married and then split up.
Even if you don’t need to hire an attorney to go your separate ways, we strongly encourage you to consult a family lawyer to help you put proper child custody and visitation orders in place.
My ex wants to join a tutoring co-op in her neighborhood so she doesn’t have to monitor my child’s online schooling. Can I object?
A lot of parents are electing to form tutoring co-ops of sorts with their friends and neighbors, where they share the cost to hire a tutor to work with all of their kids. This may be a fine solution for parents who work full-time but some parents are taking issue with this option.
These parents may be uncomfortable with the fact that someone they don’t know and/or didn’t choose will be teaching their child. As with homeschooling, if you as the parent don’t have the right (exclusive or subject to agreement) to weigh in on educational decisions, your hands are probably tied, so you have no say—at least in the short-term.
Your family law attorney can explain what options are available to you based on your individual circumstances.
If you have concerns about online schooling and child custody, contact a family law attorney ASAP
The first day of school is just around the corner, and court intervention is very limited right now due to COVID-19. If you and your child reside in Tarrant County and need issues resolved before the school year begins, our divorce attorneys in Fort Worth are here to help.
To speak with one of the Sisemore Law Firm’s Tarrant County family lawyers or schedule a case review with our founder Justin Sisemore, contact us. You can reach our Fort Worth law firm at (817) 336-4444 or connect with us online.
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