Back to School Tips for Divorced or Separated Parents

The start of a new school year can be stressful, and for those who are separated or divorced, the stress can be even greater. Who will shop for school supplies and clothes? Who will pay for them? Will the teachers remember to communicate with both parents? Which parent will coordinate the kids’ schedules, carpools and after school activities? Will it be a joint effort? So many questions. So much stress!

To help ease the stress and anxiety that often accompanies the new school year, Judge Michael Ian Bender and Molly Caesar, founding partners of the Chicago-based family law firm, Caesar & Bender, LLP, have compiled a list of tips that they have shared with their clients. Both attorneys agree that communicating with the other parent, no matter how challenging it may be, is key.

“The kids must come first,” says Bender, who authored the book, Protecting Children: Bettering the World One Child at a Time. “Parents need to put their differences aside and come to an agreement that puts the best interest of their children ahead of their own.”

Tip #1 – Share the Cost of School Supplies

School supplies can cost a small fortune, and the list seems to go on and on: backpacks, lunch bags, pencils, notebooks, folders, crayons and more! To lessen the financial burden, it’s best if the parents can agree, upfront, to share the costs. To make things even easier, many parents review and divide up the list of supplies so each one knows what the other is purchasing.

Tip #2 – Create a Shared Calendar

Creating a shared calendar using Google or another online platform can make coordinating school year schedules so much easier. Both parents have access to it, and depending upon the ages of the children, the kids can have access to the calendar as well. Everyone can post events and invite each other via the calendar. This works especially well for those parents who have trouble communicating with one another, as all-important dates can be found in one place – on the calendar!

Tip #3 – Drop the Kids Off Together on Day 1
Depending upon the age of the child, the first day of school can be a bit overwhelming and sometimes scary. If possible, both parents should accompany the child to school on day 1. Not only will it help make the transition easier for the child, but it will be a good opportunity for both parents to meet the teacher. If for some reason only one parent can go to school on the first day, consider taking a photo and sending it to the parent. A kind gesture like this can go a long way.

Tip #4 – Share Your “Family Tree” with the Teacher

Teachers today are well aware of complicated family dynamics especially when one or both parents have entered into a new relationship and there are significant others in the mix. At the start of the school year, make an appointment to speak with the teacher (and perhaps the principal and school administrators as well) to introduce yourself and to let them know of your “family tree.” Doing so will help prevent any confusion during pick-ups and will also help the teacher know who is who when the child talks about his or her family members. This will also alert the teacher to help make sure that information is provided to both parents.

Tip #5 – Attend Parent-Teacher Conferences Together

This tip is so important! No matter what has happened in the past or what is currently going on between the parents, both parents should attend the parent-teacher conferences together, if they can behave civilly. Otherwise, separate conferences are possible. The child should know that both parents care and are genuinely interested in what’s happening at school. If one parent lives out of state or cannot be there in person, consider using Skype or FaceTime to include him or her in the conference.

Tip #6 – Schedule Weekly Debriefs  

Between school and extracurricular activities, the days (and weeks) can become quite busy very quickly. To avoid things falling through the cracks (like upcoming tests, projects that are due, permission slips that need to be signed, birthday party invitations, etc.), consider an email stream or text with the other parent to keep each other informed and to discuss things that are coming up. Many parents find it especially beneficial knowing that every Sunday night, for example, will be an update (via text or email) of the week ahead.

“Putting these tips into practice has been quite beneficial for our clients,” said Molly Caesar. “The start of the school year will be here before we know it and having a plan in place will help alleviate the stress for everyone involved.”