Transitions are always difficult for divorcing or divorced families, as new schedules and obligations can disrupt mutually agreed-upon rules and practices. Just like summer break, the start of the school year can create issues and questions for parents who are separated or divorced.
Below are some tips to help divorced or separated parents minimize the stress and confusion that often accompany the start of the school year. Here are three to consider discussing.
Let the Teachers and Coaches Know
In order to curtail any confusion and avoid misconceptions, separated or divorced parents should inform teachers (especially those of elementary and middle school-aged children) about their family situation.
Ideally, this should be done via email or phone before the start of the school year so the teacher/coach is told well in advance rather than on the first day of school. The discussion might involve explaining that your children live in two different households (which is why they sometimes need to bring extra clothes to school), as well as why different people are picking them up each day.
You should also be sure to notify the teachers about any significant others that are involved in the children’s lives especially with respect to pick up and drop off at school or daycare. Ensure both parent’s contact information is listed with the school so that in case of an emergency someone will be reached. This is the time to put any animosity aside and put yourself in your child’s shoes. If they have an emergency at school or need to be picked up they will want to know it’s taken care of and not that their parents are fighting.
If an agreement has been reached, review your settlement agreement as it likely addresses the division of extracurricular costs. If an agreement has not been reached consider attending mediation to address any outstanding financial issues. If your child is attending college, keep in mind that many of the costs contemplated by the child support guidelines for children living at home are not covered, such as dorm setup costs and/or a new laptop.
The unpublished decision of Werosta v. Werosta, 2011 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2237, discusses child related costs, the court stated: “A divorced parent is not bound indefinitely to pay the costs of all extracurricular activities that the other parent chooses for the children. Neither parent may unreasonably withhold agreement, but where an activity is unusually costly or inappropriate for other reasons, and it is not unreasonable for a parent to disapprove the expense or activity, the parent who nevertheless insists on that activity should bear the cost.”
Unless you have a very antagonistic relationship with your ex, you should try to attend important school events together. This includes special events/activities like dropping your kids off on the first day of school, attending band or orchestra concerts, cheering at sporting events, and visiting the teacher for parent-teacher conferences. It is important that you both feel like you are in the loop, and that your children feel you are both equally interested in their academic success and extracurricular activities.
If you really can’t stand to be around each other, try to alternate attending events every-other time. But, for the sake of the children. Having both parents in attendance for these important school milestones is what is best for them. A good way to keep each other informed is to start a shared Google calendar for school-related events. Failing to keep your ex informed of important school events, either intentionally or unintentionally, will only cause greater problems for you and your children, so it is imperative to come up with a communication plan that works for all of you to avoid unnecessary conflict.
It is my hope that these suggestions will help make the back-to-school season as easy and stress-free as possible for you and your family. Contact Jessica N. Mazur at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 732-545-4717.