It can be difficult to get along with a former spouse at the end of a divorce. But setting aside personal differences and putting your child’s needs first is essential for the long-term mental health and happiness of your child. With the new school year upon us, we wanted to share 10 back-to-school tips to help divorced parents focus on co-parenting and start the school year in a positive way for their child.
1. Focus on communication and always include the other parent.
Communication is always the key to a successful co-parenting relationship. You and your former spouse should have open communication regarding your child and his or her schooling. If you are the enrolling parent, make sure you provide the school with the other parent’s correct contact information. Take a picture of the forms you fill out and send it to the other parent to include him or her in this process. During the school year, if you receive information regarding your child’s schoolwork or activities, be sure to share it with your former spouse if you don’t see that he or she was copied on the communication. Both parents should agree to keep each other in the loop and commit to that agreement for the betterment of their child.
2. Use a shared calendar and update it often.
If you are going to be successful with tip 1 then a shared calendar is a must. There are several shared family calendars available online that can be used for this purpose. The most used to share information about a child’s activities are Google Calendar and Our Family Wizard. Judges in the St. Louis Metropolitan Area recommend Our Family Wizard because it offers a variety of helpful tools that go beyond just a calendar app. Regardless of which shared calendar you choose, you should post your child’s school events, homework and project deadlines, doctor appointments, extracurricular practices, games and events, parent-teacher conferences, vacation dates, etc.
3. Talk about back-to-school supplies to avoid any issues.
Most lawyers tell their clients that back-to-school supplies are supposed to be paid for with child support. However, that perspective is not uniform or best for every family. The cost of school supplies or technology or after-school sports gear can cost way more than monthly child support. To avoid an argument or having one parent tell the child that he or she is the parent paying for all the school supplies, have a conversation about how to pay for all or some of the items on the supply list. This conversation will help set a positive tone for your co-parenting relationship during the school year.
4. The first day of school.
Depending on the age of your child, the first day of school can be a big emotional deal. Think about how you would feel if the first day of school didn’t fall on your custody time and you didn’t get to be with your child for that event. Although this may be difficult (especially if you are newly divorced), you should offer the other parent the opportunity to be with you for the drop-off on the first day of school. It will only be a difficult situation for less than 10 minutes, but your recognition of this being important to the other parent should pay big dividends in your school year co-parenting relationship and speak volumes to your child that both parents are involved with school.
5. Agree on when homework will be completed each day.
You should agree at the beginning of a school year to share homework duties as equally as possible. It’s not fair for one parent to take on most of the homework while the other parent doesn’t have to participate. Have a conversation and agree to when your child will complete homework each day. Then each parent should follow through by discussing the rules with the child, so he or she knows the rules are the same at both houses. This should avoid missing assignments or the failure to know whether large school projects are being worked on. This will also avoid one parent being blamed for a child’s failure and eliminate either parent putting pressure on a child for being the messenger for deadlines. Try to keep the other parent informed and share homework deadlines and progress reports regularly to prevent any problems.
6. Agree that your child’s backpack stays with your child.
This sounds simple but is not always followed. To help your child be consistent and complete homework assignments on time, his or her backpack filled with books, computer, materials, and assignments need to accompany him or her from home to home.
7. Attend parent-teacher conferences together if possible.
While some parents do request separate parent-teacher conferences, it is best for divorced parents to attend together when possible. Attending together makes it easier on the teachers and shows the teacher everyone is on the same page when it comes to supporting your child. If you really cannot be in the same room with the other parent, consider appearing by phone so the teachers only have one conference for your child.
8. Share pictures with the other parent.
If the other parent isn’t present for an event, send him or her a picture or video of the event. This is a simple and positive way to demonstrate your commitment to co-parenting.
9. Share health information ASAP.
If you hear the flu or pink eye or COVID is running rampant at your child’s school, you should inform the other parent immediately. Don’t wait for the school nurse or principal to notify all parents of a health concern. Instead, notify your former spouse so he or she can be on the lookout for symptoms. Also, if your child wakes up sick and stays home for the day, that is another situation where it’s important to alert the other parent as soon as possible. This is critical if a custody exchange is scheduled for later that day.
10. Plan for inclement weather and teacher in-service days.
While Parenting Plans typically spell out who is responsible for taking care of the child each day, make sure you and your former spouse agree on who is caring for the child when bad weather arises and on teacher in-service days. These events typically lead to unnecessary confusion. Your Parenting Plan should state what happens when your child is not in school; however, if employment only allows for one parent to be available, please consider being flexible and putting the needs of your child before yours.
Should you need the advice of an experienced divorce attorney or have questions or concerns about your situation, know that we are here to help and ready to discuss those issues with you.