SAN DIEGO, August 14, 2013 — Can you believe it’s already time for 60 million American kids to go back to school? Mixed feelings are natural at this time of year for everyone. Kids will be sad about summer being over so quickly . But they are likely to be excited too, happy to see friends, while perhaps anxious or nervous. So are their parents.
It’s a little more complicated if you are a divorced parent. If you are freshly divorced since your child’s first day of school last year, you have some brand new school-related issues to deal with. Who pays for what? Who does the school call if there is a problem? Who gets to chaperone the field trip? What activities will the child get to be involved in? Have you worked out what school your child will attend, near Dad’s house or Mom’s house?
Lawyer Myra has some tips for you that will make sure back to school doesn’t end up meaning back to court for you and your former spouse.
Meet the new teacher. Divorced or not, it is always good to meet with your child’s new teacher. Let her or him know your child comes from a divorced home or a shared custody home. Children of divorce and separation often act out at school, have emotional moments, or just a bad day. Your child’s teacher should know what’s going on. But don’t get teachers and school personnel involved in conflicts between you and your former spouse.
Share information. Don’t play games or create obstacles for the noncustodial parent to get information. Unless you have a protective order, give permission to the children’s teachers, counselors, and medical professionals to share school information with both parents.
Arrange for duplicate notifications. Although information should always be shared, it helps to arrange for separate, duplicate notifications about academic progress and school activities so one parent is not responsible for copying and sending information to the other.
This includes graded schoolwork and tests that come home. One method is to keep a folder inside a child’s backpack for these kind of papers. Each parent can check the folder for new materials. Using this system helps parents avoid putting the child in the middle, and also keeps the child from being responsible for papers he might lose anyway.
Coordinate events. Agree in advance to be courteous to one another at school events so you can attend at the same time. You can suck it up for the hour it takes every few months. If this is really, truly not possible, arrange to attend on different nights or at different times.
Deal with school expenses up front. Custodial parents usual pay for back-to-school wardrobes and school supplies, unless both parents agree to share those expenses. Try to buy everything at one store if possible to minimize confusion. Keep copies of the receipts so you have a record of what you’re owed.
Share supply information. You may be the parent in charge of school shopping, but your ex might want to be involved. It’s not uncommon for a divorced dad to take his child out and buy a hot pair of sneakers, backpack, or electronic device. Make sure you have talked in advance about whether Jim or Jane gets a cellphone or iPod. Purchases like this on a whim rarely end up without an argument and upset parents and kids.
Coordinate calendars. There are going to be lots of events when school starts: sports and music practices, meets, science fairs, concerts, etc. Coordinate the school calendar with your parenting schedule. You want to make sure your child is able to attend important events. Have calendars in each house, one in your child’s backpack and give one to teachers or coaches to show which parent he will be with.
Plan Projects. Kids may have project they want their dads to help them with. You and your former spouse should anticipate this so you have a plan in place when the science fair or soapbox derby comes along. If the noncustodial parent is overseeing a project, make sure he or she has all the details, including the deadlines and requirements. Try to remain hands off as much as possible so your child and ex can have a positive experience together. Everyone wins here.
All of this advice assumes you and your former spouse are not a danger to the other. If you are not permitted by court order to be in each other’s physical presence, you will need to take precautions. Inform the school in the event law enforcement needs to be called to intervene. Be sure pickup agreements are on the record, clear and enforced.
Communication is still important and a written record can help keep legal issues straight and problems at bay. If necessary, you may need to arrange to have a third party assist and be the point of mutual contact between you to ensure civility and cooperation.
Remember who school is for. It’s not a battleground to establish who is the better parent. It’s great for you to be involved with your children but don’t let it become a competition with your former spouse. Your child is dealing with your divorce while juggling the demands of the new school year. Let school be your kid’s refuge, a place for him or her to have fun, learn, achieve and excel, and forget about the issues at home.
No matter what, you can’t go wrong making a decision if you stop and ask yourself this: what’s in the best interest of my child? You get an A-plus.
Myra Chack Fleischer serves as Lead Counsel for Fleischer & Ravreby in Carlsbad, California with a focus on divorce, property, custody and support, settlement agreements, mediation, asset division and family law appeals. Read more Legally Speaking in Communities Digital News. Follow Myra on Twitter: @LawyerMyra.
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