Shared parenting plans can be a challenge on the best of days when each family member is on a regular schedule and there are no surprises. However, the changes over the past few months owing to the COVID-19 pandemic have presented a number of obstacles for parents, particularly those who are divorced or separated and sharing access. When most businesses closed or transitioned to remote workplaces and schools were shuttered back in March, this presented a new set of parenting conflicts, some of which have been taken to courts across the country in urgent hearings.

Now that daily life is slowly starting to resume as the curve continues to flatten, people are beginning to wonder what their routines will look like in September when school restarts.

While no definitive plan has been set as of today, the province of Alberta recently announced three scenarios of what school might look like this fall, each of which will have a significant impact on working parents, particularly those who share custody of their children. Below, we provide an overview of each scenario so parents can begin to plan ahead for each contingency.

Scenario One: In-Person School Resumes at a Near-Normal Level

The first scenario is the most optimistic of the three, allowing for a nearly normal resumption of in-school practices. While classrooms will be reorganized to allow for better social distancing, class sizes will remain unchanged. Stricter measures will be implemented to enhance hygeine practices and reduce the chance of transmittal, including a ‘no sharing’ policy when it comes to supplies.

For parents who share access, this scenario would allow parents to resume their normal routines, with no need for alternative care or amended schedules compared to the regular school year in previous years.

Scenario Two: In-Person School Resumes on a Parial Basis

Scenario two will pose challenges for parents, particularly in families where both parents work outside of the home. In this scenario, in-person classes would resume, but with stricter social distancing requirements. This would necessitate a cap of 15 students per classroom, requiring a reorganization of school schedules.

To accommodate the cap, children would attend school on an alternating basis. This could mean each day would be divided, with half the students attending in the earlier part of the day and half in the later part, or potentially on alternating days. Either way, parents who work would need to adjust their work schedules or find alternative options for care for children who are too young to be home without supervision or get themselves to and from school on their own. This may necessitate an overhaul of existing parenting plans as well, to better accommodate the new school schedule.

Scenario Three: School Remains Entirely At Home

Scenario three is the worst-case scenario, and one that most people are hoping to avoid. Should it become necessary, schools will be completely closed for in-person learning, and will continue to operate entirely online as they did in the first few months of the pandemic.

This scenario would cause the most upheaval for shared parenting plans, as parents would need to figure out how to share parenting time in a situation where the children need care at all hours of the day. It is likely that, should this scenario be implemented, workplaces would also be under strict measures due to a second wave of COVID-19. In that case, many parents will also be working remotely, or not working at all. In some cases, a parent who has children only on weekends may be the one available to be with the children during the weekdays, necessitating an overhaul of the parenting plan. One parent may be an essential worker who works in shifts, meaning the other parent would need to take children on those days when they would normally be in school.

No matter what happens this fall, parents who share access to young children should be thinking ahead to potential options so that they can accommodate last-minute changes as needed. Even if one scenario is implemented, it is important to remember that the situation could change again if the virus starts to surge later in the fall, as some medical professionals have predicted. In any event, parents should strive to work collaboratively to vary plans as necessary and keep the best interests of their children at the forefront of negotiations.

The family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman are exceptionally experienced with respect to parenting plans and child access arrangements following the breakdown of a relationship. We will work with you to ensure that you receive a support award that accurately reflects the true financial positions of the parties. Contact our office today by calling us at 403-910-3000 or contact us online.

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