Summer can be a stress-free and flexible time of year for parents who are co-parenting children following a separation and divorce. The start of the school year can bring up problems that require attention and planning, especially if you want to successfully navigate the upcoming school year harmoniously together.
Let’s face it – how many times has your son or daughter come home with a project assignment with tomorrow’s due date and you missed it? Think about how hard it can be when both parents, in separate homes, have to be aware of the same information. Who will pay for school supplies and after school activities? Who picks the kids up, and on what days? All these questions, and more, are why it is a good idea to start planning now for the changes ahead.
Review Your Parenting Agreement or Order
It’s a good idea to think about what school-related information is important to you and double check (ahead of the start of school) that it is included in your Agreement or Order. How will you know when there is a test or a project due? What about when your child is running a fever? In the absence of rules for the sharing of school information, it’s advisable to make sure both parents are listed as contacts on school emergency forms and to share important information that the other parent might not have received.
Regardless of what your Court Order or Child Custody Agreement reflects, it is a good idea to take the initiative and be proactive in obtaining information related to your child’s academic progress and involvement rather than relying on the other parent to do the work for you – or worse – for your child to be the one burdened with the communication.
School Records and Emergency Contact Information
In most situations, both parents regardless of divorce have access to all school records, including, but not limited to, attendance logs, homework assignments, school personnel contact information, report cards, progress reports, and test results. Most schools have websites with specific information about your child’s academic progress and development to which both parents should have access. At the start of each school year, consider scheduling a conference with your child’s teacher, guidance counselor and administrative staff so that you may inform them about your family dynamics and ask that both parents be contacted with any relevant information. Often, providing the school with pre-addressed stamped envelopes is a way to make sure that you receive hard copies of documents and sharing a current email address should ensure you receive any weekly updates that teachers may send.
There are multiple apps, websites and shared calendars that can be customized to fit your unique family’s needs. Even something as simple as a shared Google calendar can make a world of difference and is available to you for free. For whatever means you choose, consider sharing the user name and password if there is opportunity for both parents to regularly update the calendar with project deadlines, fall festivals or even a father-daughter dance. Technology not your thing? It may be a fun activity for you and your child to create a hard calendar that can be shared at exchanges.
Plan Ahead for Expenses
School-related expenses aren’t just school supplies – they can include lunches, sports equipment, tutoring, activity fees, and more. Sometimes children have specific needs which may require consideration beyond just the basic guideline child support, and that might not ordinarily be required under basic child support. When each parent spends equal time with the children, it might be expected that both parties share in expenses. Without a clear understanding, one parent may be left paying for all of the expenses for the children’s back to school needs. Thinking ahead – and consulting with your family law attorney as needed – can help stop disagreements over expenses before they start.
At the end of the day, it’s never too early to do your homework when it comes to back to school co-parenting. And remember- an experienced attorney can teach you a lot!