After Divorce: Co-Parenting into a New School Year

Walk through any department store in the country and the reminders are everywhere. With ubiquitous commercials shouting from the television and printed circulars filling the mailbox, it seems the specials and sales start increasingly earlier every year. Yet somehow, the approach of a new school year still manages to sneak up on many families. Back-to-school season can present challenges to any family, but for parents who have gone through a divorce, there is much more to consider for their children as they start school this fall.

An estimated 1.5 million American children experience the divorce of their parents each year. As a result, thousands of adults are preparing to co-parent with their ex-spouse through the school year for the first time. It can certainly seem a daunting task, and many parents fear their child may have trouble adjusting to new situation. While adaptive issues may occur initially, their effects typically decrease quickly, and with some preparation and solid communication, long term problems can often be minimized.

Early Summer Planning

Before classes begin, it is important that both parents are prepared to work together and make the needs of the child their highest priority. In order to do so, an organized schedule is as essential basis for a workable co-parenting plan. School districts typically make the school year schedule available long before the first day. Establishing drop-off, pick-up, weekend, and vacation responsibilities significantly contribute to the sustainability of the plan and provide stability from which the child can greatly benefit.

Late Summer Preparation

As the end of summer approaches, schools and teachers usually make more specific information available, including lists of supplies, class schedules, and sometimes, lesson plans and assignments. If it has not been already decided, the parents need to determine who is responsible for purchasing school supplies and maintaining them throughout the year. Many schools also provide parents the opportunity to meet their child’s teachers and familiarize themselves with the school’s facilities. This can be a major source of contention, but only if the co-parents allow it. Reasonable discussion and ground rules regarding who should or should not attend these functions (including new spouses or significant others) can help keep distractions to a minimum, thus allowing the focus to remain on the best interest of the child.

Back-to-School and Homework Routines

By the time classes begin, everyone involved should also be clear on expectations regarding homework. Both parents should be consistent about when homework is to be done, how it is checked, and who the child can turn to for help. If the child spends time at both parents’ homes during the school week, they must ensure they are each able to provide appropriate homework space and supplies. It is also very important that consequences for poor performance or missed assignments be applied consistently.

Sports, Clubs, and Other Extra-Curriculars

Just as the school year starts to ramp up, many children seek to participate in sports and other after-school activities. For the children of divorced parents, activities and sports can be very beneficial, but must also be factored into the co-parenting plan. Parents need to consider and prioritize how participation will affect other routines, such as homework, transportation, bedtime, and parental time-sharing. A practical agreement should also be in place regarding attendance at games, competitions, or performances to avoid unnecessary stress and aggravation.

Communication and the Teachers’ Role

The most important tool that co-parents have at their disposal is communication. They not only need to be able to talk to each other, but the child’s teachers need to be included as well. Most educators have experience working with children of divorced parents and are typically flexible and understanding. However, it is extremely important that parents let the teacher’s know about their co-parenting situation, as the teacher is typically among the first to identify difficulties the child may be experiencing. Behavior issues and academic struggles are often the first symptoms that the child of divorced parents may be having trouble adapting. Therefore, it is equally important that teachers are able to communicate with the parents as well. The parents must be willing to listen and understand, especially when the information is uncharacteristic of the child or uncomfortable to hear.

Despite the difficulty of the situation going on around them, children are generally resilient and can adapt to new situations well. It is unfair, though, to expect them to do so entirely on their own. Open lines of communication help identify and address problems as they arise, providing opportunity for the child to flourish and excel. A reasonable and practical co-parenting plan can tremendously help a divorced couple reduce stress and provide a great deal of stability for the family.

A Trusted Advocate Can Help

If you are considering divorce in Illinois and are concerned about how it might affect your children, contact an experienced DuPage County family law attorney. We can help you understand the divorce process, establish a co-parenting plan, and make the right decisions for your unique situation.