The Back To School Shuffle

By: Mary R. Pigorsh

The end of August means summer is coming to an end and children will be going back to school. For divorcing families, that might mean uncertainty as to where the child/children will go to school. In most divorce situations, the parents share joint legal custody, which means that both parents have an equal voice in making the bigger decisions that impact their child/children. If a school change is being suggested by one parent, then the other parent should be consulted. Further, the change should not be made unless the other parent agrees and/or a Court orders the change. Accordingly, with joint legal custody, the parents should discuss and agree before any changes are made.

The expectation of joint legal custody is that the parent should discuss the bigger issues with the other parent. Hopefully through that dialogue they are able to identify their options and reach a consensus as to what is best for their child/children. In the event they are unable to agree, then the Court will assist them in making that decision, and neither parent becomes the 800-pound gorilla. So, if there is disagreement on a big issue (i.e. school, daycare providers, medical providers, medical treatment and/or counseling) or, simply lack of communication, you have a voice and should be heard. If the other parent will not listen, you have the option of asking the Court to intervene.

For the parents out there, the end of August might not involve a new school choice for their child/children; however, it will likely involve new teachers and, in some cases, new schools to contact when the child/children is/are advancing to a higher level and a new building. Unfortunately, in divorced families, too many parents miss out on special events for their child/children because they are unaware of them. In these instances, the parent that missed out often blames the other parent for not keeping him/her up-to-date on the schedules; however, it is not the one parent’s responsibility to keep the other informed. With joint legal custody, unless the parents agree otherwise, both parents are responsible for contacting schools and connecting with teachers. Each parent is responsible to remain current; it is not one parent’s duty to schedule conferences for the other, etc.

All of this being said, it is important to connect with the school(s), teachers and staff, providing them your contact information and keeping them updated in regards to any changes or updates. Be sure to ask them to report to you, too, and to keep you on their e-mail notices. Additionally, even if you have given them your information, although schools send out a lot of information via e-mail and/or postings on the school website, some documents are still mailed home. If you and the other parent are in different households, you should also ask the school how best to get the mailed information to both homes. In some instances, parents have been asked to provide a supply of self-addressed stamped envelopes to the school for its use, as many schools will only mail to one home for each child. So, for the cost of a few stamps, that parent is kept informed as to the events, schedules, etc. of his or her child/children. My opinion? It’s definitely worth the postage.

Have a great school year!