October 14, 2021
About 48 million American children headed back to school this fall. It’s normal for both parents and children to have mixed emotions about returning to the classroom, especially amid a pandemic. For children in divorced families, emotions can sometimes run even higher due to additional uncertainties.
Back-to-school is a time of great transition, and it can be increasingly complicated for parents and children alike.
The following issues and questions are common during this time of year:
- Which parent pays for what?
- Who is the emergency contact if there is a problem at school?
- Which parent will chaperone field trips?
- Who decides which activities the child will participate in?
- Which parent attends games and performances?
- What school will the child attend?
- Is it closer to one parent’s house? Does that matter?
Answering these questions and addressing these issues can be extremely hard. Here are some back-to-school tips for divorced families that can help decrease everyone’s stress and make the most out of the coming year both in and out of the classroom.
Get on the Same Page
You might never get on the exact same page, but maybe you can compromise on a similar one. Don’t make school any more difficult than it already is for your child by disagreeing on minor issues. Do your best to work out the significant issues. If possible, consider meeting in a neutral place before the beginning of the school year to discuss the routine and expectations with your child’s other parent. Iron out details such as after-school activities, pick-up/drop-up routines, and emergency procedures.
Once you’ve reached an agreement on the critical issues, write them down and share them with your children together if appropriate. If you cannot reach an agreement regarding certain issues, turn to your parenting plan, which should provide guidance.
Meet With Your Child’s Teacher
Your child’s teacher should be aware that the child is from a shared custody family/divorced home. Both parents should have the opportunity to meet the teacher and discuss any concerns they might have. The teacher should be aware of any pressing issues in the family so they can help the child navigate their emotions and frustrations or refer them to the school counselor if necessary. Be sure to tell your child’s teacher and school administrators about your agreements regarding pick up/drop off, emergency procedures, and after-school activities.
Divorced parents should do whatever it takes to remain courteous to one another at school and other child-related events or performances. Remaining friendly will allow both parents to attend the events at the same time, which is typically in the best interest of the child. If this seems difficult, keep in mind that in most cases, the performance or event only lasts a couple of hours and rehearsals will only run a few months.
If cordial behavior is not possible, the parents should attend the events on separate days or during different times. Remember that whenever possible, co-parenting and having both parents at these special events is best.
Paying for School and Related Expenses
Even though the parent with primary time-sharing rights usually pays for back-to-school supplies and clothes, as well as school-related fees, divorced parents can draft a mutually agreeable plan to share these expenses. Sometimes purchasing all supplies and clothes at one store can help in this endeavor and reduce confusion.
You should also keep copies of all receipts for a record of purchases, the amount of the purchase, and by whom. If a dispute ever arises regarding paying the child’s expenses, these can be helpful to you and your divorce attorney.
Share Important Information
Divorced parents shouldn’t intentionally create complications or withhold information from the non-custodial parent. Unless the parents have a protective order in place, sharing information is critical and mandatory. Grant permission to the child’s counselor, teacher, and medical professional to allow them to share important school and academic information with each parent.
Create Duplicate Notifications
While sharing your student’s information with their other parent is crucial, you will also want to organize separate and duplicate notifications, including information about academic progress and school activities. Ensuring duplicate notifications can make each parent independently accountable for being aware of information—whether it concerns a bad grade, a missing assignment, or a choir performance.
If your child’s grades and homework aren’t done or posted online, placing a folder in their backpack specifically for homework and other communications can be helpful. This way, each parent can view the contents of the folder regularly. Such a system can help avoid putting the child in the middle.
Coordinate Your Calendars
Over a school year, dozens of school-related events and activities may include:
- Sports practices
- Science fairs
Coordinate your parenting calendar with the school and extra-curricular event calendar. Each parent and the child will have the information they need to arrange their schedules to attend important events.
Additionally, each parent should have a copy of the calendar in the home. Some parents also provide a copy of the calendar to the teacher or coach to tell them which parent will be present for each event. Some apps can help parents keep their calendars coordinated so they can co-parent successfully.
Sometimes school-age children have specific projects they want one parent to help with, while other projects they prefer the other parent’s help. For example, they may want one parent’s help crafting Valentine’s Day cards for their classmates while the other parent might be better to help with a science project. Divorced parents should expect this and create a plan to handle various duties.
Although it happens every year, going back to school is a transition that takes some adjustment. When children of divorced parents return to classrooms, uncertainty can bring strife and impact grades. As much as possible, both parents should follow these tips and work together to make each school year as best as it can be. If additional assistance is needed, it can be helpful to reach out to an experienced divorce law attorney in your area for guidance.