The beginning of a new school year usually means new teachers and a change of classmates for most children. There will be more difficult subjects to master. It’s a challenging time for kids, and parents who are undergoing a divorce may also find this a time filled with potential traps.
Parents who are now living in two separate households, with perhaps plenty of bitterness connecting the two homes, need to find a way to co-parent amicably, or at least civilly. Going back to school is about your child, not you. How will parent-teacher meetings, lunches, supplies, homework, and school outings be handled? You and your ex need to have a communication plan in place before school begins.
You and your ex might still be battling through the financial aspects of the divorce. Unless you are careful, your child will find him or herself in the middle of battles about school costs. Who pays for lunches and field trips? Who buys the new sneakers and books? The attorneys may be doing the paperwork, but your child needs answers now. Finances might be stretched to the limit now that you have split. But work together on your child’s needs. It is not fair to your child to say, “If you want new sneakers (or jeans, or games, etc.), go ask your father.”
Your child is both of your responsibility. Discuss whatever you can afford, pool your money for those outrageously priced sneakers, if necessary, and see to your child’s needs. Just because the final papers haven’t been signed does not mean you should abdicate parental responsibility.
When everyone was living under one roof, the children had a known homework routine. What happens now that there are two homes? For the children’s sake, parents should agree on a routine and expectations. Assignments need to be completed on time, and both parents should help prepare for tests. Regardless of which home the child is in, that parent should double-check the availability of school supplies.
Co-parenting adults need to communicate. Is your child showing difficulty in a particular subject? Discuss the problem and how to resolve it. It is an excellent idea to have a weekly meeting by phone, Zoom, or email to discuss any school-related matters. Your marriage has ended. Your responsibility as parents has not.
If problems are not resolved, don’t use the child as an intermediary, as in, “Tell your father to check your spelling.” Communicate directly with your ex.
Both parents need to ensure that the children have healthy lunches packed each day. If lunches are purchased at school, who pays for those? These details need to be resolved as soon as school begins.
These trips are usually an exciting diversion for the child. They also require a permission form. Both of you should discuss the trip, whether your child should be going, and who will be responsible for any costs. One parent should not be making these decisions alone.
Your children’s school undoubtedly has an abundance of events, from parent nights to bake sales. Both of you should make every effort to be involved in your children’s events, and both parents should be present for parent-teacher conferences. Be civil during these conferences. Make sure the teachers know about your new living arrangements. There is every chance your child may act differently following the divorce, and his or her teacher should know the reason for the change in behavior.
These conferences are about your child. It is not the time to air your grievances about each other. (As in, “Well, Billy would be doing better in history if his mother didn’t allow him to watch so much television.”)
Both of you should be made aware of important dates in advance. It is not fair to your child to surprise your ex with a teacher conference with only a day’s notice. And if you don’t inform your ex of sports events or happenings such as school recitals or inform him or her at the last minute out of spite, it will be your child who suffers when your child becomes convinced the co-parent just doesn’t care.
It will be difficult enough when your child wonders if Mom or Dad will show up before each event. Don’t use important occasions as a post-marital bludgeon against your ex.
Most schools these days communicate about tests and events via computer. Both of you should have equal access to these communications. Make sure the school has both of your emails.
It is very helpful to share a school calendar that includes events, homework, and other important school information. For example, if the calendar shows an important English test on Monday, the co-parent with whom the child is spending the weekend can ensure that his or her English book is packed.
Schooling During Pandemic
The pandemic has changed schooling for many children. Whether it involves virtual learning or mask-wearing, both parents and children are facing new routines. Both of you need to be aware of your school’s policies regarding masks, etc. Send your child consistent messages regarding school policy.
Prepare Your Child For The Return to School
Your child’s entire life has changed. He or she will likely be confused as to how to face teachers and friends. Should he or she bring up the subject of divorce? Will the teachers treat him or her differently? What should your child say if you or your ex haven’t had the opportunity to update the school with the new address, etc.? (You should be doing this as early in the school year as possible.)
Both of you should sit down with your child and take him or her through a few scenarios. Tell him how to explain the situation to teachers. Suggest how the matter may be best brought up with friends. A simple, “I’m not comfortable talking about this right now” is sufficient to cover most situations.
Your Child Is Going To A New School
If your child is attending a new school, he or she will be especially nervous. Visit the school together before the new school year begins. Go over the route between the new home and the new school so that it feels familiar. If possible, go through the school hallways and visit the cafeteria and gym.
When your child returns to school, he or she is relying on your support. Do not make this about you. Leave your ego behind and focus on your child’s needs.
The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.
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