Court ruling sets precedent for divorced parents who disagree on children’s back-to-school plan

What happens when parents who are separated or divorced disagree about sending kids back to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic? Ginella Massa speaks to a lawyer about navigating the polarizing issue.

By Ginella Massa

The decision between sending kids back to the classroom, or opting-in to online learning has been a difficult one for many Ontario families. But the situation is even more stressful for separated parents who can’t come to an agreement with their ex-partner about which schooling option is best for their child.

“It’s a very polarizing issue,” said lawyer, Ron Shulman, a certified specialist in family law. “Parents see it as a health concern, and some take a very strong position.”

Shulman said he’s seen the family courts inundated with cases over the last few weeks, with divorced parents asking a judge to decide who is right in the online vs in-class debate.

Now, a recent decision in a Newmarket case could has set a precedent that will likely see those fighting to keep kids at home lose in court.

“Justice Hamil’s decision ends up siding with the position that the courts should not be intervening with the government’s decision to reopen schools,“ Shulman explained, referring to the August 25th decision in Chase vs. Chase.

Shulman said fears of being exposed to COVID-19 would likely not be enough to convince a judge that a child should be kept at home, unless that child, or family members in the home, already have existing medical conditions.

“Absent serious reasons, the child would be expected to go back in the physical setting,” he added.

He recommends that divorced parents who don’t see eye-to-eye attempt to communicate and compromise to address any specific concerns, and if needed, enlist the help of a mediator.  

“The best resolution to family cases is not in court,” he says. “The best resolution is through negotiation.”

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