Preparing for the New School Year: Essential Legal Considerations for Co-Parenting

It’s that time again. It’s time to start thinking about the new school year — especially when you’re co-parenting.

The school year has a unique set of challenges compared to the summer. Schedules have to change massively, constant events are happening that have to be navigated, and a laundry list of expenses starts to weigh on everyone’s wallets.

Here are a few tips on how to handle the new year and some legal aspects to keep front and center in your mind.

Be Very Clear on Your Custody or Visitation Arrangements

Regardless of what kind of custody you have or what arrangements the court has set in place, you need to make sure you and your co-parent are very clear on exactly what each entails. 

These arrangements may need to be adjusted during the school year to accommodate your kids’ schedules, but you must be sure that you follow your parenting plan that was set up when you were divorced.

Ignoring the parenting plan is essentially ignoring the court, which is a quick way to ensure you end up back before a judge to explain yourself.

Remember, whatever the court has ordered, that’s what you have to do. If your co-parent is wanting to adjust the schedule, even if it’s a small change, and it goes against what the court has ordered, you need to talk to your attorney and let them handle any requested changes.

That being said, if the court ordered a standard possession, you have some flexibility. Check with your attorney to find out exactly what you can and can’t be flexible on (and how that applies to your co-parent as well).

Know that You Don’t Have to Split the Cost of School Supplies with Your Co-Parent

When the school year starts, the wallets come out — and they tend to stay out, because every time you turn around, there’s a school trip to fund, sports equipment to buy, or supplies to replace.

However, it’s important to remember that you don’t necessarily have to split these costs with your co-parent.

The responsibility for school-related expenses may be outlined in your custody agreement, but it may not be. It’s assumed, if you’re receiving child support, that the child support is supposed to go toward those expenses unless it’s specifically outlined in your decree that you get additional money for school expenses.

If you find that child support isn’t cutting it, you can definitely reach out to your co-parent and set up some kind of informal agreement about splitting expenses, but that doesn’t always work out. 

Still, it’s best if you can get that worked out between the two of you because your other options are a pain at best. One way to deal with this is to get the language of the decree changed, which your co-parent might oppose.

This means getting attorneys involved, which means more money, and you might only get your money much, much later and have to pay upfront for a while.

If you’re paying more money on top of your child support, it’s possible to get a direct support affidavit, claiming that the money you paid for school expenses went directly to your co-parent, but this has to be notarized with both of you present and then sent to the court, which is a major hassle.

If you can’t come to an agreement and the expenses are getting out of control (which can definitely happen if you have a lot of kids running around), getting the court involved is probably the only way to go.

Stay Involved in All Parent-Teacher Conferences

School means parent-teacher conferences, and if you have a lot of kids, you’ve got a lot of conferences to attend.

While it might be tempting to skip them from time to time if you’re not the custodial parent, or to just go to every other conference, or even just let your co-parent handle everything, that’s a bad idea — you really need to stay involved.

The best reason first — it’s important for your kids! They need to see that you’re involved, that you care, that you’re doing the things that other kids’ parents are doing, and that they can’t get away with bad behavior (and that their achievements and good behavior will be recognized) because you and their teacher are communicating constantly.

On top of this, and no less important, it’s evidence that you are involved in your children’s lives. If your co-parent is contentious and is trying to reduce your custody in some way, this is just one more way that you can prove to the judge that you’re involved in your kids’ lives in a big way.

If attending the same conference isn’t possible, consider asking the school if separate conferences can be arranged — they’re often happy to accommodate you because most teachers want both parents involved as much as possible.

Find a Balanced Approach with School Activities

No matter how involved your kids are in extracurricular activities, there will still be plenty of school activities taking place, some of which may involve just the checkbook while others require your involvement.

And if your kids are involved in school-related extracurricular activities, then you’re looking at potentially multiple activities every week per kid.

Of course, it’s best if you can go to all of them, but the reality is that this might not always be possible for a variety of reasons.

Unlike parent-teacher conferences, the court isn’t going to see something wrong with missing a soccer game every now and then, so it’s okay to lean more toward balance in this aspect.

See if you and your co-parent can come to an agreement on who takes the kids to which activity, including who picks them up, drops them off, or sticks around for the whole activity. Your kids will see that you’re involved as best you can be, and the court will see it too.

Attending School Lunch Is Fine for Both Parties

Unless you have a court order that explicitly says otherwise, you have a lot of rights when it comes to their schooling, including the right to see school records, communicate with their teachers, attend school activities, and go to their school lunches.

For many kids, especially when you’re newly divorced or if they’ve had to go to a new school as a result of one party moving after the divorce, getting a visit from their parents on their lunch breaks can be hugely helpful. It’s a way to show them that you care for them and love them no matter what, that just because things have changed the way you feel about them hasn’t.

And of course, the court likes to see this as well.

Prepare for Success Now

The start of a new school year can be a challenging time, but with a little bit of planning and a lot of flexibility, it can also be a successful one.

Make sure you understand your legal obligations and rights, stay flexible with custody and visitation arrangements, communicate openly with your co-parent, and stay involved in your kids’ school lives.

Let’s Talk About How We Can Help You Today

If divorce is looming in your life or you need help with an existing custody agreement, we’re here to help.

Contact us today to set up your initial consultation, or call us directly at (214) 646-3253.

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