Many custody orders provide for a summer custodial schedule that is different from the custodial schedule that is in operation during the school year. It’s easy to get into the summer routine and lose track of time, only to start the school year feeling like it’s been sprung on you out of nowhere. The time period at the end of the summer and right before school is to begin can be a highly contentious time for parents who are sharing custody of their children; the contentious nature of issues is heightened when parents wait until it is only weeks or days away from the first day of school before they realize there is an area of dispute or before they decide to try to address an area of dispute. The trial court’s schedule is often packed in August with parents who are seeking last-minute assistance from a Judge, but, more often than not, the courts cannot reach all issues and all cases before the first day of school.
Waiting until the last minute to address areas of contention can have devastating effects on the children – in some cases, parents are so divided on even the most basic issues, such as what school the child will attend, that start of school is delayed. If you are a parent who is sharing custody pursuant to a court order, it’s not too early to think about the end of summer and return to school. Here are a few hints for making the transition from summer to school year a little less stressful:
- If you have a custody order or agreement, review it. In many cases, the summer custody schedule is different from the school year custody schedule. It is possible that after a summer on a different schedule, you and the other parent are remembering the school year provisions differently and misremembered provisions can result in conflict. A review of the school year schedule can help make sure both parents have the same understanding of the time-sharing arrangement and give you time to clarify any ambiguities.
- Come up with a plan for who is to purchase which back-to-school supplies. I often hear one parent say that the other parent won’t help with the purchase of back-to-school supplies. I also hear parents say that the other parent didn’t discuss purchases in advance and so both parents ended up purchasing the same items. Supply lists are published well in advance of the start of the school year, so there is time to divide and conquer the list.
- Use an event calendar. The start of the school year means the start of after-school activities. Who has to be where and when? Suppose you utilize an online calendar that both parents can access. In that case, both parents will have access to the child’s full activity schedule and any potential scheduling conflicts can be identified in time to make corrections.
- When filling out the beginning of the year paperwork, include the other parent’s information. Even if your child lives with you 90% of the time or even if the other parent lives across the Country, it’s usually a good idea to include the other parent’s contact information on school forms.
- Decide that homework is a shared responsibility. I can’t count the number of times a client has told me that the child never does homework at the other parent’s house or that the child came home at the end of the weekend and still had to prepare a project to turn in the next morning. Before the school year starts is a good time for you and the other parent to talk about homework responsibilities and expectations.
- Share information with the other parent. Whether your custody order affirmatively requires you to share information with the other parent, it’s a good idea to do so. Many hours of court time are spent addressing one parent’s complaints that the other parent is withholding information or is generally not keeping the other “in the loop.”
- f you have a child who is starting kindergarten, do not wait until August to discuss which school the child will attend. Especially in shared custodial situations in which parents live in different school districts, each parent may assume that the child will go to school in his or her district. Waiting until days, before school starts to have that conversation or to address disagreements, can spell disaster.
- Make sure any new agreement or resolution of a dispute is in writing so that there is never a question later as to what was agreed upon.
If you do not already have a custody order in place, you still should sit down with the other parent and try to get ahead of issues that will inevitably come up as everyone transitions from summer to the school year. Ideally, the custodial arrangement should be in the form of a court order – either entered by agreement of the parties or based upon a decision by a Judge made after a hearing – because a court order is enforceable by the court, whereas a handshake agreement between the parties is not.
The attorneys here at Collins Family & Elder Law Group can help you with your custody case, whether you need to have an initial custody order entered, enforce an existing order, or make changes to an existing order.