As the calendar turns to September and football season begins anew, children all over the country have returned to school. For them, the carefree days of summer give way to the structured rigors of academic pursuits. But their parents may enjoy the respite that school hours provide.
With the start of a new school year upon us, perhaps it’s a good time to revisit some of the most contentious issues that separated or divorced parents grapple with when their children are in school.
Information Sharing. A classic area of animosity involves the use of children as a conduit for information between parents, which should generally be a no-no. This places your child squarely between you and your ex-spouse, and will lead to unintended negative consequences. There should be no need for Jimmy to tell mom about the parent-teacher conference next week, because schools are becoming increasingly responsive to the new realities that face 21st century families. Most schools can now email or mail duplicate copies of all documentation (including report cards, notices of upcoming events, permission slips, etc.) to both parents, thereby cutting out the middleman (or boy). If parents have joint legal custody, this information and documentation is readily available to both, so the primary custodian shouldn’t need to be enlisted as a secretary for the other parent. Both parties are free to contact the school and add their names to all email list-serves, mailing lists, etc. Taking the initiative with the school will typically solve these problems.
Pick-Ups and Drop-Offs. Many parents use school as a custodial exchange location, and this can have pros and cons. One positive is that parents don’t have to interact with one another if mom drops off Jimmy before school and dad picks him up afterwards. This may be a good option when the co-parenting relationship is strained and it’s best not to have your child detect enmity between his parents. One negative is that Jimmy will have to bring anything he needs for dad’s house (including sports gear for weekend practices, favorite outfits for social engagements, electronics such as a laptop or video games, etc.) to school, store it in his locker all day, and then lug it home. This may not always be feasible when there’s a lot to transfer, a school bus ride is involved, or there’s limited storage space. Each family’s needs are unique, and pick-up and drop-off times may need to be adjusted during the school year to accommodate activities and unique circumstances.
Homework. A common point of contention occurs when a child produces uneven schoolwork, depending upon which parent has custody on a given school day or in a particular week. This is one reason why, generally speaking, judges prefer to see a child have one home during the school week, one homework schedule, and one morning and bedtime routine. Many judges believe that children need structure above all else, and that variance from routine leads to uneven academic performance. In my experience, it does seem that children thrive when they don’t have to shuffle back and forth between homes during the school week. In any event, if children do split time, it’s best to create a uniform set of rules regarding homework and studying each night. For example, mom and dad could both agree that schoolwork should take place after dinner (or a set time like 7:00 p.m.), for at least an hour, with no TV or video games until everything is completed for the following day of classes. This will help to maintain structure for your children in both homes. Creating a uniform incentive and punishment structure is worth considering as well.
Extracurriculars. Generally speaking, both parents can attend a child’s sporting events, performances, recitals, etc., regardless of whose custodial day they take place on. This is a great way for a non-custodial parent to stay involved and pick up some additional time with his or her child. Depending upon the school and circumstances, this may also apply to being a team coach, Boy Scout den leader, classroom volunteer, field trip chaperone, etc. If your child leads an active life with many activities, there are usually ways for you to get involved, and your participation is not typically dependent upon your custodial calendar.
If you are grappling with any of the school-related co-parenting issues discussed above, it might be time to consult with an experienced family law attorney. The custody lawyers at Livesay & Myers have years of experience with custody and visitation cases in the courts of Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.