For divorced parents, who has say over child masking at school?

Published: Jan. 27, 2022 at 5:31 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - While a number of school systems in Central Virginia are leaving masks up to parent choice – how does that work in a divorced family?

Some parents contacted 12 On Your Side regarding the issue; one parent wants their child to wear a mask in school, while the other does not.

Edward Barnes, Founder and CEO of Barnes & Diehl Attorneys at Law, said it all comes down to your custody agreement.

Typically, custody agreements are broken down as follows:

  • Sole physical/legal custody
  • Joint legal custody

A parent with sole physical or legal custody has the authority to make decisions for the child. However, in a situation where there is joint legal custody, things are a bit difficult.

Barnes, a family attorney, said ultimately if parents have different opinions on masking, they should sit down and have a discussion.

“In these situations, it boils down to are you disagreeing because you’re angry about the divorce or because you’re legitimately concerned about the health and well-being of your child,” he said. “If you’re not talking about the latter, then you’re going to lose.”

Depending on what is going on in your child’s life, Barnes said there is a range of topics parents could discuss.

“If your doctor says the child has an allergy that’s going to be affected by this, that’s a good reason,” he said. “If the doctor says your child has a respiratory problem that would be interfered with if the child wears a mask, that’s a very good reason.”

According to Barnes, he has dealt with clients who have asked him to tackle the mask issue.

“I want you to fight against the mask; I don’t want my child to have to wear the mask,” he said the client said. “I said tell me why you have that position. ‘I don’t know, I just don’t want her to do it’. That’s not a good reason.”

In an extreme situation, a parent could file for sole legal custody to ultimately make those decisions. However, it would take time and money.

Instead, Barnes said if parents are still in a standoff over the issue, find a middleman.

“If there’s a guardian ad litem involved, let the guardian advise you all,” he added. “If there’s not a guardian involved, talk to a mediator even if it’s over the phone or Zoom. Get some outside opinion that may help you break the tie.”

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has had his firm changing ways on how it handles initial custody agreements.

“We sometimes try to get the ability to make medical decisions assigned to one or the other parties,” Barnes said. “So, our client might want to make all the medical decisions.”

Overall, Barnes said the takeaway is simple – what’s in the best interest of your child.

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