The days are getting shorter. Leaves are starting to turn. After weeks of breathing smoked-filled air that made the city feel like the inside of a cigar-store closet, the breeze has turned and the evening wind brings with it a familiar bite. It all means one thing:
Winter is coming.
Also, it’s time for the kids to go back to school. Whether this comes as a welcome respite from months of sticky fingers and songs sung in round, or as a return to the plodding routine of ordinary life, the return to school brings with it consistent changes and challenges. Those challenges are faced by all families, but families going through the transition that accompanies separation and divorce may face them with particular acuity.
1. Scheduling changes
For example, for most separated parents, the return to school means a return to the “regular parenting schedule”. However, the parenting schedule may not align with the actual school schedule. Parents should try and anticipate these potential complications ahead of time and work to avoid disputes and interruptions.
Our advice here is to communicate in advance about any needed adjustments to the parenting schedule. Clear communication that focuses on the child’s interests goes a long way towards keeping things clear and consistent for your children. Communicating early also gives parents an opportunity to seek outside help (like a parenting coordinator, counsellor, or other third party) in an effort to avoid unnecessary conflict with their ex.
2. School fees
Public school may be free, but it ain’t cheap. There are binders and pens, laptops and soccer cleats. Are these expenses that must be shared? Or is one parent “on the hook”?
Unfortunately, there’s not always a clear answer. Basic child support (the monthly amount paid by one parent to the other) is usually understood to cover the basics of a child’s needs, including the cost of normal school supplies. However, if the expense exceeds what the recipient spouse can reasonably cover and the expense is truly necessary, it may be a special and extraordinary expense and thus divided between the parents in proportion to their income. As a rule of thumb, unless the expense is significant (greater than $100) it is probably not extraordinary and probably does not need to be shared with the other parent.
Many of our clients use tracking software so that children’s expenses can be tracked, tallied, and paid. Services like OurFamilyWizard and CoParently offer built-in support for expense tracking and can go a long way towards reducing friction.
3. Communicating with teachers
Many children whose families are in transition struggle, and their teachers are often best-positioned to observe that struggle first-hand. Because of this, keeping the lines of communication open with your children’s teachers creates a valuable “early warning” system.
Let the school know about any transitions happening at home, and ask teachers and other relevant staff not to take sides in family disputes. Share with the other parent any school-related communications you receive, and arrange parent-teacher interviews so that both parents can attend. This ensures not only that you are both on the same page with respect to your child, but that you both stay involved in your child’s (academic) life – a right that is inherent in your role as a parent and guardian.