SAN DIEGO – August 18, 2014 – Sixty million American kids are heading back to school this fall. They are going to be excited, anxious, terrified, nervous, sad, happy – and so are their parents. Mixed feelings are natural at this time of year, no matter how old your kids are or how many times you’ve been through it all as a parent.
You have some new school-related issues to deal with if you are newly divorced. Who is paying for what? What activities will the child get to be involved in? Who keeps an eye on homework assignments? Who does the school call if there is an emergency?
Lawyer Myra has some tips for you that will make sure back to school doesn’t also send you back to court.
Get on the same page about routines. Don’t make school more complicated than necessary. Kids will adjust faster if you’re in agreement about routines, and so will you. Meet before school starts without the kids in a neutral location to discuss the routine details first. Work out any potential disagreements now such as emergency procedures, meals, pick-up, weather, after-school activities and all the other components of the school week. Write it all down and share the plan with your children. Keep it simple and be consistent.
Meet the new teacher. Introduce yourself to your child’s new teacher to get off to a good start. Inform him or her about your family circumstances. Children of divorce and separation sometimes act out at school, have emotional moments, or just a bad day. It will help if your child’s teacher knows the situation. But don’t draw teachers or other school personnel into your personal conflict at home.
Share information. Don’t play games, hoard information, 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 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.
One method of sharing schoolwork and notices: keep a folder inside a child’s backpack. Have the child put everything in the folder, and each parent can check it for new materials. Using this system helps parents avoid putting the child in the middle, and also avoids making it more complicated for your kids.
Coordinate events. Agree in advance to be civil at school events for your kids’ sake if you both attend. You can suck it up for an hour or two. If this is really, truly not possible, coordinate attendance so you don’t cross paths. Most teachers are willing to meet both parents one on one when necessary.
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 Sam or Susie gets a cellphone or iPod. Purchases like this on a whim rarely end up without an argument and upset parents and kids.
Keep and coordinate calendars. 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. 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. Don’t force a “sink or swim” situation. It’s your child who suffers. Try to remain hands off as much as possible so your child and ex can have a positive experience together.
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. Getting help from a counselor or therapist to help create a supportive school environment is worth whatever the cost to help your child.
School should not be a battleground to establish who is the better parent. Don’t get into competition with your former spouse. Your child is struggling through your divorce while juggling the demands of the new school year. Let school be a place for him or her to have fun, learn, achieve and excel, and forget about the issues at home.
Anytime you feel stressed, stop and ask yourself: what’s in the best interest of my child? It gets you an A-plus anytime.
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. Fleischer can be reached via Google +
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