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Managing Virtual School and Custody

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This school year has been unlike any other in recent history.  The education system has been rocked by the inability to maintain the traditional classroom environment as a result of COVID-19.  Children and their parents are now expected to take on some of the tasks that were previously the responsibility of the school.  Everyone is cognizant that there may be a drop in student performance, but could a child’s school performance be brought before the court as a reason for assigning custody?

What Washington Law Says About Education and Custody

Washington law favors an agreement that provides substantial time with each parent.  For one parent to have their time or decision making limited, requires proof that one parent is inadequate or that the arrangement would not be in the best interest of the child. 

In the Revised Code of Washington “parenting functions” are defined as “aspects of the parent-child relationship in which the parent makes decisions and performs functions necessary for the care and growth of the child.”  Specifically included as a function under this term is “attending to the adequate education for the child, including remedial or other education essential to the best interests of the child.” 

So, for example, if one parent has residential time during school days and on those days the child is missing virtual meetings and not completing assignments, it could be used to show that the parent is not fulfilling their “parental functions.” This could be an argument that the best interest of the child is to be with the other parent.

What You Need to Manage

With most of the school districts in Washington dealing with this drastic change in schooling, most courts will probably be understanding if a child’s performance is not as good as the previous school year.  This type of argument alone would likely not be enough to sway custody significantly.  What could be used is a parent’s effort to “attend to the adequate education for the child.”  This can mean many different things.

Firstly, is the parent attending to the day-to-day educational needs of the child?  This includes, but is not limited to; making sure the child is attending their virtual meetings, completing assignments, and interacting with the teacher as necessary. 

Under pre-COVID circumstances, most educational considerations were being managed in the classroom.  Identifying weak areas for individual children and addressing them in constructive ways was part of a teacher’s daily routine.  Though teachers still do this, their ability to manage aspects of individual learning is certainly limited by the virtual setting.  Parents are now expected to assist in this area.

Secondly, though probably more important in a custody case, if the child has remedial or additional education assistance needs, parents must make reasonable effort to make sure the child receives them.  If one parent is making the effort to ensure the child is enrolled and attending additional educational services that the child needs, and the other is not, the court will likely look at the parent taking action more favorably than the one that is not.

Attending to Your Child’s Educational Needs

The easy part is making sure your child has the means to and is completing and submitting the schoolwork that is being assigned, attending virtual classes, and communicating with teachers as necessary.  If you have received any input from teachers or they have raised specific concerns, make sure you address the issues.  Neglecting to address these kinds of issues would not be perceived favorably by a judge or commissioner.

It’s important to note that the mere financial means to pay for additional educational services is not what might create favor in the court’s eyes.  What will is effort.  If one parent has the means to pay for services but the other parent is involved in making sure the child is transported or connected virtually to the service, this is attending to the needs of the child. 

Now is a good time to step up your co-parenting game.  Taking on the financial, time, and emotional commitments of schooling your child from home is significant.  Especially if the other parent is not fulfilling their obligations to your child’s education, you may need to step in.

The most important thing is to stay involved.  Don’t become complaisant about education.  Know how your child is doing.  Follow up with teachers to address any concerns they have raised.  Do your part and stay connected.  It’s what your child deserves and it will matter if you end up in the court room.

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