Best Practices for a Smooth School Year after Divorce
The back-to-school season is usually marked by shopping for new clothes, the anticipation of new classes, and friends; however, for newly divorced couples and their children, the school year can be tricky terrain to navigate. Whether the marital breakup was acrimonious or not, divorced parents need to create, and maintain, a strong co-parenting relationship to ensure their children have a successful academic experience after divorce.
Following a divorce, parents will likely rely heavily upon their parenting plan, the final legal document required in all Georgia cases involving child custody. Parents can utilize different sections of their parenting plan to guide them during the transition into a new school year.
Legal Custody: The legal custody section of a parenting plan covers each parent’s ability to make decisions related to the children, including which parent has final decision-making authority when the parents cannot agree. This section will also explain the type of information to which each parent has access in relation to the minor children. Under a standard joint parenting plan, both parents will have equal access to their child’s information, including school records, medical records, calendars and activities.
When preparing for the new school year, it is important for the parents to communicate the legal custody provisions to the school and the children’s teachers. If both parents have equal access to information related to the children, the parents should make sure that both parents are listed on the appropriate paperwork with the child’s school. If the parents have joint legal custody, they can also use this opportunity to ask the teacher to make sure both parents are included on all communications related to the children, including report cards, newsletters, field trip requests and other classroom information.
Physical Custody: The physical custody section of a parenting plan establishes where the children will reside at any given time, including the parent with primary custody or parenting time. This section will also set forth the schedule for when the children are on holidays and school breaks.
It is important for newly divorced parents to communicate their parenting schedule to the children’s school. If this portion of a parenting plan is not adequately communicated to the school, issues could arise related to school pickups and the school’s ability to release a child to a parent or childcare provider. Be mindful that schools have their own internal policies of how to handle co-parenting relationships and parenting plans. Very often, schools seeking to limit their liability require paperwork outlining which parent is picking up the child from the school grounds and which one should be contacted in the event of an emergency.
When coordinating schedules, especially at the beginning of the school year, the parties may find it useful to utilize a shared, online calendar. A shared calendar will allow the parties to coordinate the children’s activities and appointments, such as extracurricular activities, parent-teacher conferences and doctors’ appointments. These digital calendars are often the best form of communication between divorced parents, as they minimize unnecessary interactions that could get heated.
Other Parenting Provisions: The last section in a parenting plan deals with miscellaneous provisions or specific issues related to the parents’ specific parenting needs, such as communication, transportation responsibilities and who will care for the children. Parents should make sure they are familiar with their specific provisions and how they apply to themselves and the children.
In summary, communication and preparedness are key to not only a child’s success in a new school year, but a child’s success after divorce. Both parents should do their best to attend orientation and meet-and-greets with their children’s teachers. Parents should use this time to familiarize themselves with the new schedules at school and at home. Familiarity with the parenting plan and the children’s schedules minimizes drama and misunderstandings between the divorced parties while maximizing the best interest of their children. It also can prevent another costly, time-consuming and emotional trip back to the court.