Foreword: Before we delve into this wonderful list put together by Christine Leatherberry of Connatser Family Law I must admit that getting ready for back to school is a very chaotic time for divorced families. In the 6 years that I have had this blog, many single parents have complained about costs associated with school supplies or tuition, transitioning away from vacation schedules to school schedules, sharing duties associated with extracurricular activities and helping with homework. For some newly divorcing families this will be the first time you will experience this tremendous upheaval and it is important to remain calm and plan ahead. The next set of tips are a wonderful place to start and with each tip I offer up my own experiences and advice.
12 Back-to-School Tips for Newly Divorced Parents
By: Christine Powers Leatherberry, Connatser Family Law
When the wounds are fresh, it can be difficult to get along with an ex-spouse following divorce. But setting differences aside and putting children first are essential for the long-term health and happiness of your kids. With the new school year a few weeks in, we wanted to share tips to help newly divorced parents manage co-parenting and the school year on the right foot.
1) Commit to open communication and inclusion from day one.
Communication is the key to successful co-parenting (and is an underlying theme throughout this post). If you receive information regarding your child and their needs and activities, be sure to share it with your ex-spouse. Agree to keep each other in the loop.
Dallas Single Mom Response: Keep communication consistent. If you relationship is contentious, keep communication to the point.
2) Set up a shared family calendar and update it diligently.
This is the key to following through on tip No. 1. There are a number of shared family calendars available online and some families even use Google calendars to share information about activities.
Our firm typically recommends Our Family Wizard, because it offers a variety of helpful tools. Plus, many Texas Family Court judges require divorcing couples to communicate through Our Family Wizard and use the shared calendar.
Within your shared calendar, you can keep track of:
- Extracurricular practices and events.
- Doctor appointments.
- Homework and project deadlines.
- School photo days.
- Family vacations and more.
Dallas Single Mom Response: I have listed Our Family Wizard in my Co-parenting Tools Resource article. I personally have been able to use a shared Google Calendar that is specific to my daughter. It is helpful because it all combines into one calendar on my phone.
3) Have a conversation about back-to-school supplies.
In Texas, back-to-school supplies are supposed to be paid for with child support. However, the cost for supplies, school uniforms, sports gear, etc., can often exceed that amount. If you want to start out on the right foot with your ex-spouse, offer to help pay for certain items. This can help set the tone for a more amicable co-parenting relationship.
However, I do recommend paying for those designated items directly, such as taking your child school shopping at Target or paying the school directly for uniforms.
Dallas Single Mom Response: This is the #1 most argued about item from my readership when it comes down to Back to School. It’s not just supplies but also clothes and in some cases tuition. I venture to say plan ahead and budget. Stick to the budget. I spent $147 for two kids on back to school supplies alone. For supplies, buy early (sometimes cheaper), buy in bulk, recycle unused school supplies and then divide and conquer the list.
4) Drop off your children together on the first day of school.
Though this may be a difficult for the newly divorced, it’s just one day that will be tough for you, but an important day that will speak volumes to your child. This stand of unity shows the child that regardless of his or her parents’ differences, you’re all in it together.
Dallas Single Mom Response: I would say this is significant for your children in younger grades (3rd grade and below) that you are on a united front. If you can’t make it the first day, consider going for Meet the Teacher Nights or Orientation.
5) Get on the same page regarding homework, deadlines and obligations.
I recommend that parents agree at the outset to share homework duties as equally as possible. As a Dallas divorce attorney, I frequently run into scenarios where one parent takes on the bulk of the homework follow up while the other disregards it. This is especially problematic when large school projects are involved.
You don’t want to pick up your child on a Sunday night at 7 p.m. and find out they have a huge diorama or book report due in the morning. This is not a fair way to co-parent and it puts unnecessary pressure on the child. Agree to keep each other informed and share homework deadlines and progress reports regularly.
Dallas Single Mom Response: I would say keep track of child’s assignments with their teacher as well. Some teachers have the homework online so it is something you can follow up with your child about. Check in with your child on homework throughout the week even if you don’t have them on those days. It reminds you to keep the communication open.
6) Make sure the child’s backpack stays with the child.
Speaking of homework, to help your child stay on track and complete homework assignments on time, his or her assignment folder and necessary books and materials need to accompany him or her from home to home.
You can even use the backpack as a talking point. Take a few moments during the exchange to communicate how far along the child is with completing his or her assignments. For example, ‘He finished three chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird and needs to knock out another three by Monday.’
7) Attend parent-teacher conferences together if possible.
While some parents do request separate parent teacher conferences, Christine encourages parents to attend together when possible.
Attending together makes it easier on the teachers, and also shows the teacher everyone is on the same team when it comes to supporting your child. If you can’t be there for some reason – due to a business trip, late meeting or if you reside out of state – you can always arrange to call in.
8) Exchange pictures with the other parent.
Another positive way to show your commitment to co-parenting is to text or email photos to each other when one parent isn’t able to be present at important events and milestones.
Dallas Single Mom Response: I agree with this one 100%
9) Keep former in-laws and your ex’s family history in the mix.
Children often have school assignments that require family information and photos. For example, they may be asked to research their family tree or create a photo collage. If you omit or discount the other half of your child’s family, you’re also discounting half of your child. So do your best to represent both sides equally.”
Including your ex-spouse’s family members at birthday parties, baseball games, ballet recitals and other events is another great way to demonstrate a united front post-divorce.
10) Share “breaking” health information a.s.a.p.
If you hear pink eye is running rampant at your child’s school, inform the other parent immediately. While the school nurse may eventually notify parents of health concerns by email, it’s helpful for both parents to have that information right away, so they can be on the look out for symptoms.
Also, if your child wakes up with a fever and stays home for the day, that is another scenario where it’s important to alert the other parent as soon as possible. This is especially true if an exchange is planned for that evening.
11) Plan for inclement weather (ice days) and teacher in-service days.
While decrees and child custody orders typically spell out who is responsible for taking the children when bad weather arises and on teacher in-service days, the unpredictability of those scenarios can lead to confusion.
I encourage parents to agree to be flexible in these situations. It isn’t unusual for one parent to have a more flexible job than the other. So for those occasions when it’s difficult to follow the strict letter of the law in your custody order, planning how to deal with those days in advance is key.
12) Work with a parent facilitator to iron out roadblocks.
If you and your ex-spouse disagree on issues pertaining to your children, a parent facilitator can help sort things out.
A parent facilitator is an excellent, objective resource who can help settle disputes such as whether a private school or public school is best for the child, how related costs will be paid and by whom, who pays for uniforms, etc. Or if one parent feels the child is over-scheduled with ballet, karate, violin and more, that’s something a parent facilitator can help resolve too.
About the author:
Christine Powers Leatherberry is a compassionate family lawyer who is equally comfortable in the courtroom as she is counseling her clients one-on-one. She is a past chair of the Dallas Junior Board of the Big Brothers Big Sisters and was a Big Sister to the same Little for 11 years. To learn more about your divorce and child custody options, please call 214-306-8441 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.