Television commercials have started advertising the “hottest fashions” for Fall. Every store has
aisles lined with backpacks, pencil cases and lunch boxes. Clearly, it’s “Back to School” time! For students, the new school year brings new teachers, new activities and, for some, even a new school. For divorced parents, the beginning of the school year is the opportune time to discuss the inevitable changes to schedules and activities.
Similar to a child’s “school supply” list, designed to help prepare, organize and assist the student during the year, there are several items divorced parents should do to help them prepare and organize for the coming year:
- Review. At least once per year, divorced parents should do a complete review of the terms of their Parenting Agreement. The beginning of each school year is the ideal time to do so, which should help to ensure that both parents t, are complying with the terms. If, however, there are issues relating to compliance or enforcement of your agreement at any time, then be sure to contact an attorney as soon as possible to assist you with next steps. If you and the other parent have made or make any changes to the Agreement, it is a good idea to make sure that the changes are documented in writing and confirmed by both parties.
- Update. Every school provides an annual school calendar which lists all important school dates. Similarly, sports teams or extracurricular activities also provide a calendar which lists any practices, games or special events for participants and parents. Use this information to address any changes that need to happen to your parenting schedule such as adjusting pick-up or drop-off times, transportation or location changes. If significant changes to the parenting schedule are needed, contact the other parent immediately to try to resolve any issues before the school year advances too much. Be sure to incorporate the important dates or schedule changes into a shared calendar. If you and the other parent do not have a “shared calendar,” now is a good time to put one together since this will help both of you keep track of school and extra-curricular activities. In doing so, however, keep in mind that neither parent should operate as the “secretary” for the other parent and that each parent should be responsible for individually keeping track of the children’s schedules. There are several apps or websites available to parents to help assist with communication and schedule organization, for a few suggestions, check out my article ‘Co-Parenting Tools for the Modern Family’.
- Activities. If your Parenting Agreement requires you to discuss and agree upon your child’s involvement in certain activities before the child is registered, then now is also a good time to connect with the other parent and discuss the proposed sports, clubs or other extracurricular activities. Unfortunately, sports and activity try-outs do not wait for divorced parents to “agree on” whether their child will be able to participate. So, it is imperative that you start discussing your child’s interest in a program or activity early on so that a decision can be made well in advance of tryouts or registration. There is nothing worse than having to ask a Judge to decide what activity a child will or will not participate in because his or her parents could not put their issues aside for the sake of their child.
- Reimbursement. There is nothing better than starting from a “clean slate.” Many Parenting Agreements require an exchange of child related expenses or an accounting of expenses. Provide the information before the school year gets well underway. In doing so, be sure to provide a copy of any receipts, invoices or other documentation when requesting a contribution or reimbursement from the other parent. Always document the requests in writing (or confirm the request in writing if the original communication was done over the telephone or in person) especially in case you may need to involve the Court at a later time. It is imperative that you follow your Parenting Agreement regarding the items subject to reimbursement, the timeframe for requesting contribution or reimbursement requests and the response time for reimbursements. Do not assume that the other parent is responsible for a contribution to every expense. Just because your sister’s ex-husband reimbursed her for teacher gifts and the class party does not mean that you too are entitled to reimbursement for these same things! If you are unclear as to reimbursement requests or items subject to reimbursement under your Parenting Agreement, then speak with a lawyer so that you know your rights and responsibilities.
- Update Necessary Forms and Information. Students are often required to update certain school forms each year such as medical exams (health, dental, optical), change of emergency contacts or persons authorized to pick-up, and change of address. In many cases, both parents are required to sign the forms and return them to school by a date certain. Do not delay in getting this information completed, executed and returned. Be sure to alert the school of any Orders directly impacting the child including Orders of Protection, pick up restrictions and release of information relating to the child. It is imperative for your child’s school to be provided with updated information at the beginning of the year, or at any time that there is a change which directly impacts the child. Keeping the school updated with any orders will not only keep everyone in the loop, but is likely to be greatly appreciated by the school administration.
Hopefully, taking the time to do these five (5) steps will help ensure a good school year for you and your child.