As the new school year approaches, parents who have gone through a divorce should consider ways to make co-parenting go smoothly in September. The start of school is a good time to reevaluate current child custody and visitation agreements and consider what worked, or did not work, the year before.
Because this year is likely to be much more unpredictable, it is even more important for parents to get on the same page for September. Beyond the usual details of schedules, homework, sports, and after-school activities, parents also face unique challenges created by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Here are some ideas and tips to streamline co-parenting as children go back to school this fall.
Use a Shared Calendar
Children have busy lives. There is plenty to remember with school assignments and events. Add in child’s sports, lessons, religious instruction, and other activities, and it is clear to see how parents can feel overwhelmed by the family schedule.
To simplify things and ensure nothing is overlooked, co-parents should utilize a shared calendar. Several user-friendly digital apps are available to keep every member of the family informed:
- Coparently: (http://coparently.com/) Stores important contacts such as doctors and babysitters, includes a shared calendar, and tracks shared expenses.
- Talking Parents: (https://talkingparents.com/home) Offers a shared calendar, vault storage for photos and documents, and Accountable Calling, which records and creates transcripts of phone calls with a co-parent.
- Our Family Wizard: (https://www.ourfamilywizard.com/) Allows parents to schedule events, communicate through an online message board, and track child-related expenses.
Maintain Good Communication
Although shared calendars and custody apps make it easier for parents to communicate and stay connected, it is also good for co-parents to have open and transparent dialogue with each other. When parents withhold information or block their ex-spouse, children are the ones who get hurt.
To keep positive communication flowing, it is best to stick to child-related topics, avoid attacks and accusations, and never send messages to the other parent through the child.
Obviously, there are some co-parents who feel animosity toward each other. They are probably better off communicating through email, a mediator, or their lawyers. But if parents are willing and open to staying in touch, that will make co-parenting a lot easier.
Consider a Single Email Address
Another practical tip to help co-parents transition into the new school year is to create a central email address for the child. Both parents should have access to the email account and provide it to the school, coaches, tutors, and anyone who may contact them. This way, all child-related information is in the same place, available to both parents. With a central email address, a parent can never say they missed something important.
Agree on a Regular Routine
Children thrive when they have a stable routine. And although that can be difficult for children who transition between two homes, there are ways to reduce the stress of shared custody on a young child.
A shared routine is one way to create consistency. If co-parents can agree on bedtimes, chores, and house rules, children know what to expect. That familiarity from day to day gives them a sense of security.
Share a Parent Backpack
Another easy way to facilitate co-parenting is to have a parents’ backpack for transporting items back and forth between homes. It takes the responsibility off the child to give something from one parent to the other, and it prevents children from seeing things they should not, such as divorce or financial documents.
Attend School Events and Conferences Together
Divorced parents may not see eye to eye on many things, but education should be one on which they agree. Attending parent-teacher conferences and school plays together sends a strong message. It shows the child, and school, that parents are on the same team when it comes to supporting the child.
Again, this is not always feasible, especially if co-parents have a high-conflict divorce or the court has issued a no-contact order. When in doubt, a trusted divorce lawyer can clarify the terms and guidelines of the parenting plan.
Tell the School about the Parenting Plan
Teachers do so much more than just teach the ABCs. The best teachers are truly invested in their students’ academic success and emotional well-being. Co-parents should notify the school about what is happening at home, as far as where the child lives on a particular day, where to send communication, and how the child is handling the divorce.
Sharing this information helps avoid confusion for teachers and staff, and it gives the teachers a heads-up to look for any issues of concern with the child as they navigate the changes in their family.
Enlist a Parent Coordinator to Help with Roadblocks
The reality is co-parenting is going to come more naturally to some parents than it will for others. Every set of parents have their own history and experience. Co-parents with a more contentious relationship can enlist the guidance of a parenting coordinator to facilitate the resolution of day-to-day parenting issues that may come up.
In New Jersey, a parent coordinator is a qualified, objective person who is either appointed by the court or agreed on by both parties. A parent coordinator can be a licensed mental health professional, lawyer, or otherwise qualified professional. They listen to both sides and make a recommendation to the parents and their lawyers based on the child’s best interests, above all else.
Always Put the Child First
Back to school co-parenting is always going to be more successful when parents put their children first. The child’s best interests are the guiding force in all divorce and custody decisions in New Jersey and should take precedence in the home and school too.
As hard as it may be, every parent should do their best to separate the relationship with their ex-spouse from their role as a parent. This will go a long way to help the child feel valued, supported, and loved at every age and stage of development.
COVID-19 and Co-Parenting for Back to School
COVID-19 has upended nearly every aspect of daily life. And co-parenting is no exception.
At this time, New Jersey schools are open for full-time, in-person instruction. But as the current pandemic has shown, that can very well change from week to week, or day to day.
When someone in the family tests positive for COVID-19 or comes in contact with someone who tests positive, children may have to quarantine and attend school online. Community outbreaks and positive cases among students may compel districts to close schools and transition students to remote learning at any time.
Co-parents are advised to have a back-up custody plan for the school year in case their child’s school closes or the family needs to quarantine. Depending on the child’s age, they may need supervision at home and help with remote schooling. For example, a parent who works from home may assume custody for a child who is remote learning, even if it is not their scheduled parenting time.
Beyond those issues, co-parents should come to an agreement about how they are going to navigate the day-to-day challenges during this ongoing health crisis.
Are children going to wear masks in public? Are they permitted to hang out in large groups, among children who may not be vaccinated? Should they participate in group sports and activities if the number of cases begins to rise?
These are all valid questions parents will have to address in the days and weeks ahead. The hope is co-parents can have open and productive discussions about what is best for the child. If not, a parent coordinator may be able to help.
Either way, back-to-school co-parenting during a pandemic will require flexibility, understanding, and compromise, on both sides. Parents who cannot seem to get on the same page for the new school year will benefit from the guidance of an experienced divorce lawyer in their area.
Morristown Divorce Lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. Help Clients Update Parenting Plans as Children Go Back to School
Co-parenting during COVID-19 presents new and unique challenges, especially as children return to in-person instruction in New Jersey. If you have questions about a parenting plan or want to make changes before the new school year, the Morristown divorce lawyers at Lyons & Associates, P.C. can help. Our firm takes a holistic approach to divorce, helping you transition from pre-divorce life to post-divorce life, tackling every legal challenge that arises along the way. We take a personal approach to personal matters. Call us at 908-575-9777 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. Located in Somerville and Morristown, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients in Somerset, Woodbridge, Morristown, Parsippany, Rockaway, Short Hills, Chatham, Randolph, Madison, and Morris Plains.