Back to School Tips for Divorced Families
Back-to-school times are always hectic (particularly during a pandemic), but they can be even more challenging for recently-divorced families. Splitting time during the school year between two households and having two separated parents can make managing school and extracurriculars much more complicated. There may also be sore feelings or perhaps even ongoing legal matters that generate friction during the course of routine school-year activities.
The key, based on our experience as New Mexico family attorneys, is to present a united front when it comes to managing school responsibilities. Your child and your school’s staff likely have a mountain of responsibilities to worry about already. Compounding these factors with disorganization or inter-parent conflict makes everything even more stressful, and it raises the chances that some sort of crisis might emerge.
To reduce the risk of arguments, missed assignments, or other stressful situations, use the following 11 tips:
Separate School Necessities From Personal Feelings
As yoga instructors often say at the beginning of class, set your intentions. Recognize that you may have powerful emotions bubbling inside of you related to your ex-spouse and the situation surrounding your children. There may be resentment, unspoken thoughts, or general frustration at aspects of your marriage that never achieved the desired sense of closure. However, all of these issues are separate from the priority goal: making sure your children have a good school year.
If it helps, think about getting your child through the year as an extra job. Treat it as your duty to remain calm and navigate past drama when seeking to overcome challenges. You are certainly allowed to have feelings and reactions during the course of the year, and discussing these with your ex-spouse from time to time can actually be healthy. But when it comes to your child’s experience and how you present to the school as a family, the overall objective is to ensure that your child gets to everywhere they need to be, turns everything in on time, and generally has a successful school year.
Start the Year With an Open Discussion About Goals and Expectations
The ultimate goal for co-parents is to establish a comfortable routine that they and their children can ease into as the school year progresses. To increase the odds of that happening, discuss how the school will affect your lives and what responsibilities it might add.
Pick-ups and drop-offs are a primary concern. Children also need support to ensure they’re getting the necessary homework and studying done. There’s also the matter of permission slips, needed project supplies, and other factors that can emerge once the school year has started.
Sit down with (or call) your ex, and commit to discussing the most important priorities as well as your hopes and aspirations for this school year. Outline an agenda before the meeting, and also prepare yourself for the topics that could end up being contentious. Take notes, and repeat your conclusions at the end to confirm what was decided. Once the discussion is over, talk to your children both separately and as a family to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Having these conversations can be awkward and sometimes even painful, but they lay the groundwork for better communication and collaboration in the year ahead.
Make Fair Accommodations When It Comes to School Supplies
Parents should split the cost of school supplies as evenly as possible, bar none. Child support agreements aim to ensure both parents are capable of contributing equally to the support costs of raising the child — school supplies being among them. This includes pricey items like textbooks and tablets or laptops.
It helps to tabulate the full cost of everything going into the school year, down to a specific dollar amount. Parents can then contribute either cash or physical items to ensure the child has everything they need to start the year.
Of course, school supplies are rarely a “one and done” affair. If your child has special projects, needs art supplies, needs equipment for sports, has to pay for a field trip, etc., be prepared to approach each emergent cost as a team.
Commit to Keeping Track of Backpacks, Books
Nothing is worse than the moment you go: “oh *%!@, we forgot their backpack!!”
If your child fails to bring their books to class, they could be at a disadvantage that entire day. If the backpack contained assignments to be turned in or other important materials, it’s possible that an impatient teacher will deduct points or even mark the assignment as a zero.
The logistics of avoiding this situation can be complicated, especially as things get crazy during the year. It helps to make a checklist or to have a specific spot in the home for school materials to go. Also, each parent should get in the habit of making sure their child has all the materials they need both when being picked up or dropped off.
Create a Shared Calendar for Important School-Year Events
Having a shared calendar can be a lifesaver. You can create one using tools like Google Calendar, Microsoft Outlook, or the Calendly App. This calendar should have all the most important dates, including:
- Semester start and end dates
- Exam dates
- Vacation days
- Field trip days
- Important sports events or extracurricular events
- Critical deadlines, such as submitting needed paperwork
Naturally, this calendar will need to be revised periodically throughout the year to reflect changes or new decisions that have been made. Your child may decide to drop soccer when they are cast in the spring play, for example, upending previous plans. This risk is why it is so critical that parents have a single calendar that updates for both of them any time a change is made.
Parents Magazine even suggests creating a shared email address so that all communications for parents can be directed to one location. Doing this can give parents joint access to a single calendar tool while also helping reduce the burden placed upon the school to make sure both parents know about important updates.
Have Some Backup Plans
As mentioned several times above, things can change. You may also encounter unexpected emergencies. In the event of the unforeseen, both parents should have a plan ready. This plan may involve a grandparent or other relative being contacted to do an emergency pick-up, for example. Plans should also be set for the event a child gets sick or has some sort of emergency.
We cannot predict what will happen, but we can predict that the unpredictable will happen. Accordingly, always be prepared for sudden changes, and have discussions in advance so that each parent can be on the same page on how to handle emergencies.
Give Some Leeway When It Comes to Parenting Styles
Parents should establish a few firm-and-fast rules for each other so that big choices like medical care and school districts can be well understood. Most of these decisions should be reflected clearly in the finalized divorce decree. Each parent should also hold their ground for certain important expectations, like how one house should not be the “safe haven” where no one asks the kids if they have homework to do.
Beyond the most important matters, though, parents may need to learn to let certain things go. We cannot control our ex-spouse, least of all in their own homes. We can have conversations and voice our concerns and, in extreme cases, intervene, but at the end of the day, we do not have ultimate control. Recognize this, and be prepared to accept certain differences in your parenting style so long as the main goals are met of getting through the school year and supporting the children throughout it.
If You Have Concerns or Challenges, Bring Teachers and Counselors Into the Conversation
Parents don’t have to do everything on their own! The school can provide guidance or accommodations in light of specific challenges the parents face. Parents can also coordinate with the school guidance counselor if they have concerns about their child’s emotional and mental well-being as a result of the divorce. Do not hesitate to get the school involved when you are worried about certain factors.
When you do engage with the school, do so as a united front, however. Schools do not want to take sides, and they will not respond well to parents “playing” a situation off of one another, especially if kids are stuck in the middle.
Attend All Parent-Teacher Conferences Together, When Possible
Simply put: both parents are involved in raising children, tracking their academic progress, and supporting the school in ensuring their child receives the needed education. Make all possible accommodations to make sure you attend each parent-teacher conference so that you can hear the school’s feedback and voice your own concerns, as needed.
Check in Periodically
The same conversation about expectations, scheduling, and other matters should be revisited every so often. This can be weekly, monthly, or perhaps even just midway through the current semester.
Ensure Your Divorce Decree Is Crystal Clear on Schooling
Co-parenting is challenging, especially when it comes to decisions where there is no middle ground. Matters like the choice of school must be decided jointly and with plenty of time so that children aren’t scrambling with major last-minute changes.
If parents cannot come to agreements, then they may need to resort to mediation. In extreme cases where one parent may be unfit to make such decisions, it is possible for the courts to grant sole decision-making custody to one parent (although New Mexico courts prefer joint custody, whenever possible).
Many of the most major decisions will be either made or guided within the final divorce decree. The decree should include language about who pays for what schooling costs, for example, and who has the authority to make decisions regarding what school each child will attend. The more clarity there is in the language, the less chance that families find themselves in crisis right in the midst of the school year.
If you are facing any sorts of legal challenges or need assistance related to your divorce decree, do not hesitate to contact a New Mexico family law firm. New Mexico Financial & Family Law can provide you with representation and counsel when you need it most to help ensure your children have the successful and rewarding school year they deserve.
Schedule a confidential case evaluation with no obligation when you call us at (505) 503-1637 or contact us online.