It is the end of August already, and if you are a parent, you know what that means. Time to get the kids back to school! Depending on your summer schedule, this could be a time of great relief or a time of extra challenges. Whichever is the case, for divorced parents, the effects are often multiplied. Here are a few tips on how to make things easier, and how you can use mediation to tune up your parenting plan and get you through any rough patches.
Tune up Your Parenting Plan
If things have gotten lax over the summer, you may need to renew efforts to be timely with your child exchanges once the school year starts. It is also a good idea to consider whether any changes are necessary. Does middle school start and end later than elementary school? Does your child have a new extracurricular passion that requires extra transportation? Or (gasp) will your child be learning to drive this year?
Even if you created a thorough and detailed parenting plan when you first separated, that does not necessarily mean it was one and done. Sometimes plans need a tune-up, especially if your children were young when you first reached agreement. If you have an unresolvable disagreement about amending your parenting plan, choose a mediator together and schedule a session right away.
Review your Cost Sharing Responsibilities
Backpacks, calculators and school trips can get expensive. Shopping for school supplies and clothing can also be time-consuming. Make sure you have a clear agreement about who is going to shop for what and whether or not either of you will be reimbursed by the other for any expenses.
Present a United Front
If possible, agree that you will both attend events like parent teacher conferences, school plays, recitals, and sporting events. Depending on your level of friendliness, you might need to agree to be polite while keeping your distance. If schedules don’t allow you both to attend, or if it is simply currently impossible for you to be in the same room together, then you may want to alternate attendance or agree that each of you will attend specific events. The parent in attendance should agree to fill in the other. Sending pictures to your ex when they can’t be there is a great way to send the message that you want to have a positive co-parenting relationship regardless of what has happened up to now.
Maintain Open Communication Lines
Sharing a parenting calendar online with an app like Our Family Wizard or Cozi can help prevent missed pick-ups and other misunderstandings. And if your kids are old enough to read, they can keep track of their own schedules this way too.
Be as Consistent as Possible Between Households
Ideally, children who split time between households will have similar rules at both homes. If you divorced primarily because you had completely different ideas about how to raise children, this can be challenging. There is room, however, for some differences within the boundaries of good parenting.
Try to negotiate a few basic rules that are the same, such as consistent school night bedtimes, and putting homework before gaming or watching television. If you cannot agree on everything, the next best option is to acknowledge differences and respect them. Children are already used to following different rules in school than they do at home, so most will be able to make a few adjustments between Mom’s house and Dad’s house. Just make sure not to be the parent who is always too strict or always too permissive.
Keep Teachers in the Loop
Especially with younger children, it is important to let the school know which parent is responsible for what and who to call first in any situation. If it will help your child stay organized, ask the teacher for a duplicate set of textbooks. Anything that can minimize the need to lug things back and forth can help.
What About Serious Disagreements?
For serious disagreements, such as whether your child should attend public school or private school, consider scheduling mediation asap. If you believe that your former spouse could afford to pay for all or part of your child’s private school expenses, you will have to make a case that private school is necessary. Making your financial arguments to each other with a mediator might prevent the need to go to court.
Courts making educational decisions consider the child’s best interests and the ability of both parents to pay. If the issue is private school, this means weighing the features of the private school against the quality of available public schools in the area. The court would also take into consideration the child’s prior educational setting. Arguments are generally stronger if a child has special needs, or a special gift or talent.
A court that finds private school necessary is likely to order parents to split expenses according to their respective incomes. As a very simplified example, if annual tuition was $21,000 and one parent earned $100,000 while the other earned $200,000 the cost might be split $7,000 and $14,000 respectively. A court that does not find private schooling necessary can still order shared payment for extraordinary expenses. These might include private tutoring or lessons, or necessary assistive technology to supplement the child’s education.
Get Expert Help if you Need It
If your discussions always seem to descend into wheel spinning, consider enlisting the help of a child developmental expert. Look for a licensed mental health professional with training and experience working with families going through divorce. Consulting one neutral expert works for many parents. In cases of more severe disagreement, however, you may each want to hire your own. Specialists can prepare reports or attend mediation sessions.
If you do end up in court, make sure to keep the best interests of your children front and center. Do not let the stress from your conflict overflow onto them. Their job is to go to school. Yours is to make sure that school is the best possible learning environment for them.
If you and your co-parent would like to discuss negotiating your parenting plan with one of our trained mediators, contact us today for an initial consultation.