Parenting Plans Before the School Bell Rings
As with any time for reflection, back-to-school is a great time to review your goals for the upcoming months, including your parenting plan. Before the first bell rings, you should meet with your ex-spouse to discuss and agree on the logistical and financial responsibilities for your child’s upcoming school year. While summer schedules are usually more relaxed with family trips, summer camps, flex workdays, and out-of-town guests, your fall schedule is more structured, particularly for divorced couples who have to co-parent from separate households.
Whether you have been divorced awhile or recently separated, stressful challenges coincide with balancing work schedules alongside your child’s school transportation, extracurricular activities, and homework. When one parent has sole or primary physical custody, the burden of daily logistics generally falls on them. Suppose primary custody was agreed upon at the time of your divorce. In that case, it is crucial to determine the expectations for the other parent regarding daily drop-off and pick-up, transportation for out-of-school activities, including sports and clubs, school holidays, and sick days. If you have a 50-50 custodial agreement, it is still a good idea to outline your parenting plan, so each parent knows the child’s schedule and agrees on the expectations around schoolwork, performance, and activities. The most important thing is consistency, so your child feels supported and cared for regardless of where they sleep at night.
Another critical element of back-to-school planning is understanding the division of expenses. In many divorces, finances play a significant role in the dissolution of marriage in the form of child support, alimony, or the division of assets. Communication about back-to-school expenses can hopefully be done amicably in person or with the support of your family attorney. Even though your divorce decree most likely outlines how school expenses will be handled, the sooner you revisit each other’s financial responsibilities and agree on them for this school year, the smoother it will go. There are obvious costs each year, such as new school clothes and shoes for all seasons, school supplies and books, and possible tech expenses (new computer, smartphone, or calculator). It is essential to discuss and include in your planning the not-so-obvious but integral school-time expenses, including monthly school fees, bus transportation, team or club sporting equipment, activity fees, and school lunches. There should also be a clear understanding that no matter how great your plan is, there may be unplanned costs that each parent should be ready for, such as a lost backpack, damaged phone, and growth spurts as your child ages.
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If communicating with your ex is difficult and dealing with each other frequently only brings out more frustration, remember that technology can be a much-needed buffer between you. A shared Google “Family Calendar” can be a straightforward and easy way to create a set schedule that everyone can see, even extended family. The shared calendar reduces the frequency of check-ins, and you can be strategic about the times you have to meet to go over additions, changes, or issues. In addition to Google calendar, other co-parenting apps such as Our Family Wizard, Coparently, Cozi, and 2Houses help manage communications, schedules, and expenses.
In a divorce or custody agreement, the most crucial thing for back-to-school planning is always keeping the child’s best interest in mind. Communicating with your ex is just as important as communicating with your child. Setting expectations to minimize any disagreements will create a smoother school year. Though it can be stressful, this is a very exciting time of year filled with many growth opportunities. If possible, parents should try to be together for the first day of school, special events, and parent-teacher conferences to reinforce your unified support of your child. If you and your ex have trouble communicating and agreeing on a back-to-school plan, ask your family attorney about using a mediator to help address these issues before back-to-school planning feels more like detention.
Rebecca L. Palmer, Esq. is a Family & Marital Law attorney practicing in Florida. She is the Managing Partner of the Rebecca L. Palmer Law Group, and she can be reached at [email protected]
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This post originally appeared on our September/October 2022 Magazine