After contending with COVID restrictions for two years, many parents have embraced sending their child/children to camp, visiting with relatives, and travelling this summer. Fewer pandemic-related restrictions make it feel like we are living in a post-Covid world. However, COVID continues to circulate in the community, with new waves coming at a greater frequency. This can pose some challenges for separated families returning to school in the fall, particularly with respect to decisions about their child’s/children’s health care and education.

Returning to school for most children means in-person learning. While the COVID vaccine is not required in order to attend public school, the decision about vaccination against the virus should be made in the best interests of your child/children. If your child attends a day-care facility or private school, make sure to review the institution’s policies on vaccination and masking.

In separated families, there may be different opinions between care givers about vaccinating children against COVID. Questions of, “who decides if their child/children will be vaccinated?” and “who decides whether the child/children will attend school in-person or remotely?” are questions that may require the assistance of a Family Law lawyer and/or mediator.

Case law addressing school issues during the pandemic continues to evolve, and the answer to these questions depends on whether separated parents have sole decision-making authority or joint decision-making authority. If a Court Order or Separation Agreement states that one parent has sole decision-making responsibility, then that parent has the right to make important decisions about the child/children without the consent or knowledge of the other parent (unless the Court Order or Separation Agreement provides for a specific notice period before the decision takes effect which many do).  On the other hand, if the Court Order or Separation Agreement provides for joint decision-making, then both parents must make these decisions together. In several recent Court cases, the Courts have made it clear that if a medical professional has determined that the COVID vaccine is safe and will protect your child/children against the virus, then it is in your child’s/children’s best interests to receive the COVID vaccine. In addition, it is also possible that your child/children can choose whether to receive the COVID vaccine if they are a teenager. 

Another ongoing debate amongst families may be that of in-person or online schooling. If you are currently separated from your spouse and/or partner and are debating in-person vs online learning, you may want to consider whether the risk of exposure to COVID outweighs the benefits of in-person learning, such as social development, academic achievement, and psychological well-being. Try to seek your child’s/children’s wishes, if they can be reasonably ascertained, and speak with a medical professional if your child or another family member is immunocompromised. It is also important to assess your ability and your co-parent’s ability to support online learning while juggling competing demands of work and other caregiving responsibilities.

If you are newly separated from your spouse and/or partner and have yet to finalize a Court Order and/or Separation Agreement, here are some back to school tips to consider for a smooth transition from summer to school:

  1. If there are significant disagreements among you and your co-parent about proper steps to take with respect to your child/children in light of the pandemic, have these discussions prior to the start of the school year, and consider speaking to the child’s/children’s medical team about what may be the best course of action for them;
  2. Contact a Family Law lawyer for a consultation about your situation;
  3. Notify and communicate to the child’s/children’s teachers and school administration any changes that may occurred to the family dynamic and living arrangement over the summer break;
  4. Encourage an open dialogue with the child/children to discuss their feelings about going back to school while your family is in transition;
  5. Seek mental health support if you notice that your child/children are struggling with the new family dynamic;
  6. Be aware of your own feelings of anxiousness, burn out, and isolation as you transition to being a separated family; and;
  7. Expect to be flexible and adaptable as the pandemic continues to impact daily routines at home and school.

Back to school comes with excitement and anticipation for all families, separated or not. Here at Mills & Mills LLP, our experienced Family Law lawyers can assist you and your family with decisions relating to back to school and Covid 19, year 3. To learn more about how we may assist you and to book a consultation, contact us online or by telephone at (416) 863-0125.

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