Tips on Navigating Your Child’s First School Year After Divorce or SeparationMarybeth Sampsel
Whether your child is five of fifteen, going back to school after parents divorce can be awkward for all involved. Who chaperons school trips? Who takes care of science projects and book reports? Who buys school supplies? The questions go on and on. Navigating school issues is just one of the many things divorce parents must work out. Before we dive in, some good news: the first year will be the most complicated, but it is (almost) all uphill from here!
Before reading any further, I suggest you review your Parenting Plan. The “Decision Making,” “Residential Schedule,” and “Child Support” sections will be invaluable when determining how your child’s school schedule fits into your new life as a divorcee. Depending on your parenting plan, you may find that you have the right and authority to make some decisions without involving your ex, or you may discover that the two of you will need to be in constant communication throughout the year.
In the Decision Making section of your parenting plan, you should find how educational decisions will be made. In Montana, our courts generally prefer that the parties make educational decisions together. Where your child will go to school, whether or not your child should be held back, how special education will be handled, and so on, are all issues that would likely be considered “educational decisions.” If your parenting plan provides for joint decision-making, you and your ex must discuss and agree upon those major educational issues. I know, I know…if you could agree upon everything, you probably wouldn’t be divorced, right??!? Well, your parenting plan probably anticipates there could be disagreements. See your mediation or dispute resolution section. Normally, a parenting plan will require parties mediate disagreements. If you can’t decide where junior will go to school or whether or not your daughter will skip the 5th grade, mediation is your next stop.
In your Residential Schedule, you may find some information about how school activities will be shared. Including this detail is fairly rare, so if you don’t see a provision about school activities, don’t panic! Generally, both parents are allowed to participate and attend the child’s school activities: plays, sporting events, field trips, etc. In some families, mom and dad simply cannot interact with each other. If that is your circumstance, I suggest working out a schedule where you and your ex share school activities. If dad is more into science, maybe he can help with the science fair while mom volunteers for reading group. For younger children who have field trips, taking turns chaperoning might be an option. This sort of thing will require some work on both parent’s part – hopefully the parties can set differences aside to make junior’s first school year after the divorce a smooth one.
You may also find a section in your parenting plan about how to share your child’s extracurricular expenses. Many parenting plans split the cost 50-50, though that isn’t always the case. As such, be SURE to check your Parenting Plan.
Finally, a few things to remember this school year:
– While both parents have the right to receive the child’s school records, report cards, etc., they each have a responsibility to acquire that information. I suggest each parent contact the school and the child’s teacher at the beginning of the year and request that all mailings go to both homes. This way, both parents can stay on top of the school schedule.
– Both parents have the right to attend parent-teacher conferences (unless the court has specifically limited that right in your case). If your relationship with your ex is extremely volatile, separate conferences can usually be accomplished. Call your child’s teacher to find out.
– School issues are one of the most complex issues to deal with when co-parenting. Figuring out how your new relationship will work takes time. Always keep your child’s best interest in mind and keep the lines of communication as open as possible