As we begin to see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel (we hope), we can look back on what we have learned from the challenges faced by co-parents. While no one could see the pandemic and its difficulties coming, the sudden closing of all schools and a change in how society operates have exposed gaps and uncertainty in many parenting time agreements and orders. Now that we see those gaps, it is time to build stronger agreements that can withstand the uncertainties that may be yet to come.
Most parenting time agreements and orders are silent about what happens when school does not take place as scheduled. This occurs outside a pandemic when a snow day or sick day occurs, but those are usually singular days or very short stretches of time. Still, if your agreement does not address who will be responsible for providing care for a sick child or on a snow day, you could be left scrambling when an unforeseen day out of school occurs. Consider tasking the parent who determines that a child is too sick to attend school with the care requirements on the day that decision is made. For a snow day, perhaps the parent who was exercising parenting time when the school made the decision to close or delay should be responsible for care. If a child’s sickness or a weather-related closure extends beyond a day, parents should follow their regular parenting time schedule with the parent exercising time responsible for ensuring appropriate care.
Longer closings such as a period of e-learning because of a pandemic or other circumstance should also be addressed in your agreement or order. Longer closings bring up issues of responsibility for care, but also responsibility for managing e-learning. If a child’s remote learning school day does not line up with the parenting time exchange times in your agreement, consider addressing how you will adjust exchange times if needed. If your parenting time exchanges are to happen at school, you should address where exchanges will happen if the children are not going to be at school. The goal in discussing and agreeing to these “what if” scenarios ahead of time is not to make your parenting plan complicated, but to avoid last minute confusion and disagreement.
Another unfortunate result of the pandemic shut down has been the loss of employment and health insurance by many parents. While many parenting plans address which parent is to provide health insurance, they do not address what happens if a parent loses access to employer-sponsored insurance for a child. Because the loss of insurance is often a sudden event and the need for replacement coverage happens quickly, consider including in your agreement a method for determining how you and your co-parent will obtain alternate coverage. If you are unable to do that, consider agreeing to a short and efficient process such as arbitration where you and your co-parent can have a trained decisionmaker provide the next steps. This can help avoid long delays waiting for a court to schedule time and create a new order.