The beginning of the school year can be an exciting time for
children. They are excited to learn who their new teacher is and if any of
their friends are in their class this year. They may look forward to the annual
school clothes shopping sprees or want to pick out their new school supplies.
However, when parents are divorced, the new school year can bring about anxiety
for children, especially when their parents do not get along amicably. Here are
the best tips I have discovered to start the new school year off on a positive
note for children.
Use technology to share information. With
the choices we have today, co-parenting can be made easy and information shared
openly, even when you do not want to talk with the other parent. There are apps
for the phone and computer that allow parents to communicate without having to
have face-to-face conversations. Parents have the option of using a shared
Google calendar, Our Family Wizard, CoParenter, AppClose, TalkingParents,
WeParent, 2houses, or Truece to share information. The key to all these apps is
that the parents agree on which one to use and both have signed up for an
account. Some of the apps charge yearly fees and others are completely free.
Some of the apps will allow parents to add third parties to the group, such as
the children, grandparents, or professionals that are assisting the family. If
you do add a professional, notify the other parent of who has been added. Do
your research and agree on which application to use to communicate. Reach an
agreement for a deadline to respond by, so everyone is clear on what is a
reasonable time to expect a response, if one is needed. By using an agreed upon
method of communication, parents can send messages or upload information for
the other parent without worrying about interrupting work.
Review your court order. The start of the new school year is a good
time to pull out your judgment and review its terms. If you have had
post-judgment issues resolved during the previous school year, pull out those
orders as well. If you have joint legal custody, remember that the other parent
needs to be include in decisions regarding the child’s education. Decide if the
school should be provided with a copy of the judgment or order. This may be
necessary if one parent has restricted or supervised parenting time, the court
has limited one parenting from picking up the children, etc. If the school
should have a copy, provide it with the completed school forms.
Plan for attending school activities in a
positive manner. When parents do not get along or fight every time they
talk, plans should be made for attending school activities. Decide if the
parents will alternate months on helping in the classroom or attending field
trips. Talk to the teacher about options for parent-teacher conferences. Are
the teachers willing to have two separate conferences? Ask if a parent can
attend by telephone, if that parent does not live close to the school district?
For school concerts and plays, both parents can sit on opposite sides of the
room and not speak to one another. The important thing to remember is that the
child can experience the support of both parents without feeling like the child
has to choose or is waiting for a blow-up. For some activities, each parent may
have to decide to put their differences aside for a few hours.
Properly fill out school forms and alert
school personnel to our family dynamics. When filling out the school forms,
list each parent’s name in the appropriate slot with their known contact
information. This lets the school know who the legal parents are and how to
reach them. If you have remarried, identify your spouse with the appropriate
title. It can be helpful to let the teacher know how the child prefers to
address stepparents. Agree on who the emergency contact individuals will be.
Plan to share the cost of school
supplies. Start discussing how to share the costs of supplies after the
Fourth of July, if it is not clear in your court orders. Will costs be shared
equally, or pro rata based on the parties’ incomes? Understand that the items
being purchased are for the children and not property of the parents. The
children should be allowed to freely move their school supplies between houses
and school as the child needs. Discuss on the requested supplies for the classroom
will shared. There should be discussions and an agreement as to whether one
parent will do the shopping and the other parent will reimburse or if each
parent will separately purchase their share.
Allow the other parent to enjoy the first
day of school. Discuss with the other parent if they would like to jointly
attend sending the child to the first day of school. It may not be possible due
to work schedules or distance between homes but be willing to extend an
invitation. If the other parent cannot join in sending the child off to the
first day of school, then share photos from the first day in a shared account
or in social media that the other parent can see. Remember this is a day for
Discuss ahead of time what
extracurricular activities the child can participate in throughout the school
year. The start of a new school year is a good time to discuss how many and
which extracurricular activities the child can participate in. A good starting
point is what is written in the court orders regarding activities. Discuss with
the other parent if there is a limit to the amount of funds that you can
contribute toward extracurriculars. Extracurricular activities can include
sporting teams, dance, after-school clubs, scouting, band, orchestra, or music
lessons. If there is a disagreement about the child participating in a winter
or spring sport, now is the time to bring the matter before the court for its
assistance in resolving the dispute. If you wait until the start of the season,
the child may not be able to participate that year.
Decide how to handle school emergencies
and unexpected school closings. Discuss with the other parent what
information to communicate to the school on who to contact when there is an
emergency or school unexpected closes. The discussion should include how the
unexpected school closing impacts the parenting time schedule and an agreed
upon time to exchange the child if one parent picks up from school outside of
his or her scheduled parenting time. Decide now if there will be a group chat
that will be used when an emergency or unexpected school closing happens.
Sync up the afterschool and bedtime
routines. Both parents should be open to establishing the same routines for
after school and at bedtime. Providing your children with joint routines and
rules for both houses will minimize the time it takes children to re-acclimate
to each parent’s house rules and expectations.
to your children.If your children are old enough, ask them what extracurriculars
that they want to do. Find out what routines work best for child to accomplish
everything that the child needs to get done. Hold your older child responsible
for transporting schoolbooks and supplies between both houses.
The important thing to remember about starting off the school
year as divorced parents is that your children still have two parents who love
them and want to support their education. If you have joint legal custody, you
need to work jointly with the other parent on education decisions. Minimize the
number of third parties that are brought into your discussion until it is
necessary. Then those third parties should be brought in to either elicit their
input or to provide information that the third party needs to perform their
If you are experiencing unresolved conflicts with your
ex-spouse, do not hesitate to contact our office at (248) 329-0344 for
assistance in reaching an agreement that is best for your children.