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Custody, COVID-19, and Returning to School

July 28, 2020

“What are we going to do about school?”

Summer is more than halfway over and the same question is on many parents’ minds: “What are we going to do about school?” Recently, Montgomery County Public Schools (“MCPS”) announced that the school year will begin virtually, but MCPS will re-evaluate in November the possibility of returning to in-person classes at that time. Mayor Bowser of Washington, DC, is expected to make an announcement by July 31 regarding the reopening plan for DC public schools. Many private and parochial schools in the area have crafted a hybrid approach, with students alternating between virtual and in-person learning. With this fluidity comes uncertainty. Parents may find themselves in a position of having to choose whether to send their children back to school in-person during a pandemic or continue with online learning.

The past several months of the COVID-19 pandemic have taught us that state, county and local plans can change weekly. The upcoming fall school schedule is unlikely to look like the previous school schedule parents were familiar with prior to the beginning of the pandemic. Days may be shortened, virtual learning is likely to continue in some capacity, and bus routes may not run as they once did. Parents who were previously working from home while homeschooling may now be returning to the office.

The decision whether to send a child back to in-person learning is already a difficult one to make for parents whose relationship is intact. But what about parents who are divorced or separated? Many of these parents are already struggling during the pandemic to adhere to their regular access schedule currently in place. Parents who typically are in the boardroom wearing business attire are now making presentations sitting at the kitchen table, their babies napping just off screen. Breaks between meetings are spent fixing kids’ lunches and helping with arts and crafts projects. Even though we have come a long way adjusting to the “new normal,” making a decision whether to send a child back to a physical school building, when, and on what schedule, may not be one on which parents readily agree.

Such a decision can involve many legal considerations. If one parent already has sole legal custody, it may ultimately be his or her decision to make. If the parents have joint legal custody, it will be a decision that they must make together. In either scenario, if one parent adamantly disagrees with the other parent’s preference, they may need help from an attorney and/or other professionals to reach an agreement. The Maryland Governor’s Office of Legal Counsel clarified that the previously issued Stay-At-Home Order, while it was in effect, did not prohibit “parents from leaving their homes as necessary to facilitate visitation or exchange of custody.” If a parent believes that a change to the custody order in place is in his or her child’s best interest, but the other parent does not agree, the parent seeking a modification can ask the court to make a change. Filing for a modification of a custody order requires a showing that there has been a material change in circumstances and that a modification is in the best interest of the child.

The Divorce and Family Law attorneys at Shulman Rogers can guide you through this process, whether it be pursuing legal action or seeking to resolve the issue outside of court. Our team is well versed in the applicable custody laws and is closely monitoring the developing judicial interpretations of the same in the COVID-19 era. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you.


The contents of this Alert are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact the Shulman Rogers attorney with whom you regularly work or a member of the Divorce and Family Law Group.