Back to School Tips for Divorced Parents

The stores are filled with binders and glue sticks so it must be time to start thinking about back-to-school. This time of year is busy for all parents, but it is particularly challenging when you’re divorced or separated. Not only are you juggling supply lists (including impossible to locate folder colors), sneaker shopping, open houses, and more volunteer events than your schedule has room for, but you’re also managing a parenting schedule, cost-splitting, and handling all of your exes “moments.” Follow these tips to keep your sanity.

 

Track Expenses. If you and your ex have an agreement to share school expenses or if your ex is responsible for all of it, you need to keep your receipts. Try to buy everything at one store if possible to minimize confusion. Keep copies of the receipts so you have a record of what you’re owed.

 

Share Supply Information. As much as school shopping can be a headache, it is a way to stay connected to your child. Even if you have agreed that you will be the parent in charge of school shopping, your ex might want to be involved. It’s not uncommon for a divorced dad to take his child out and buy the latest and greatest sneakers, backpack, or gadget. Making sure the other parent understands what the school requirements are will prevent a hissy fit by your child when the giant backpack fails to meet school specs and must be returned.

 

Coordinate Events. If you and your ex both want to attend open house, make sure he knows when it is. If you can’t stand to be in the same room together, arrange to go on different nights or at different times. If that’s not possible, most teachers are willing to do a quick one-on-one to meet one of the parents at another time.

 

Notify the School about Pick Ups. If you have sole legal custody of your child and have any concerns that your ex could try to pick your child up from school without your permission, you need to give the school a copy of your custody order and direct them not to release your child to anyone but you.

 

Think About the Night Before School.  Do you remember that sick to your stomach feeling of the night before school? Your child experiences that too and it’s important to do whatever you can to make the first day of school easier for him. If at all possible, have your child sleep at the home where the bus will pick him up most of the time. This will minimize tension and help him get settled into a routine.

 

Arrange for Separate Notifications. If your ex has the right to receive information about your child’s academic progress and school activities (most parents with joint custody do, but some custody orders directly spell this right out), he needs to make arrangements with the school to have duplicates sent to him. As the custodial parent, you do NOT want to have to be responsible for copying and sending him everything that comes home. That being said, there are times when a teacher might send a quick handwritten note or email to you alone and it would be in the spirit of cooperation for you to share it. It is also nice to share graded papers and tests that come home.

 

Coordinate Calendars. Now that school is getting revved up again, there are going to be lots of events – book fairs, sports meets, science fairs, concerts, and more – scheduled for your child. Compare the school calendar with your parenting schedule. You want to make sure your child able to attend important events. If your ex lives nearby, you can suggest he take him to events that fall on his days.

 

Talk to the Teacher. If you are recently divorced, or in the middle of a split, make sure you find a moment to talk to your child’s teacher about the situation. Children of divorce and separation often act out at school, have emotional moments, or just occasional bad days and you want your child’s teacher to know what’s going on.

 

Smile! When school portraits roll around, if you do not want to talk to your ex about buying a package of photos together, send him an extra purchase order so you don’t have to get involved.

 

Plan Projects. It’s quite common for kids to want their dads to help them with certain school projects – particularly the ones that require construction! It would be great if you and your ex could talk about this kind of situation in advance so you can already have a plan in place for the science fair project or whatever will be coming along. If your ex agrees to handle a project, make sure he has all the details, including the deadlines and specs. It’s tempting to let him sink or swim, but it’s ok to let your mom nerves take over and remind him once or twice about the deadline so that your child does not end up in a bind. Try to remain hands off as much as possible though, so your child and ex can have this experience together.

 

Remember Who School Is For. It is too easy for school to become yet another battleground where you and your ex each attempt to stake your claim – you become active on the PTO and pal up to the teacher while your ex makes calls to complain to the principal about every little injustice to your child. You’re each secretly trying to be über involved with the school so you feel connected to your child. School is your kid’s turf – a place for her to have fun, grow, and get away from the issues at home. Don’t ruin that for her.

 

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Terrific Resource about Divorce

Recently I was sent a copy of Julian Block’s Tax Tips for Marriage and Divorce. I highly recommend this book! It contains information your attorney or mediator may not know and helps you navigate all of the complicated tax issues surrounding property settlements, alimony, how to file taxes (jointly, separately, etc), whether legal fees are deductible, taxes on sale of your home, taxes on Social Security, dependency exemptions, and much more. For example, if you obtain an annulment, you need to go back and amend all tax returns from your marriage because an annulment makes it legally as if the marriage never happened, thus you were never entitled to file jointly. I’ve never heard an attorney apprise a client of this fact.

Block is a well-respected tax attorney and his advice is clear, easy to understand, and on point. This is a book everyone who is dealing with divorce needs.

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Divorce and Gen X

A recent story in the Wall Street Post analyzes divorce for Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980). This is the generation that grew up with divorce–they were raised when divorce rates were sky rocketing (I am a Gen Xer, but my parents did not divorce). I found the piece interesting because the author’s point of view was shock and surprise about divorce for this group. She grew up in a divorced home and knew how hard it was and so never wanted that for her own children. While I understand her feelings, I think she fails to consider what studies show us about children of divorce. Children from divorced parents tend to have double the rate of divorce as other children. Divorce begets divorce. Unfortunately it seems that if you do not have the model of a healthy marriage when you are a child, it makes it much harder for you to have a healthy marriage yourself.

That being said, I do not agree with parents who stay together just for the children. Yes, it works in some instances, but if you have a volatile marriage that is filled with anger, violence, emotional abuse, and other behavior that children observe, living in such a home is also damaging. Having represented children of divorce as a Law Guardian, I firmly believe it is better for a child to have two safe, secure, emotionally healthy homes than one severely dysfuctional and emotionally dangerous one.

To get back to the question at hand then, how do we help children of divorce learn what a healthy marriage is? If they can’t learn in their own homes, how do we teach them? I think it’s essential for children of divorce to get some therapy to help them deal with the home situation. If children can eventually come to terms with their home situation, they may not seek to have those needs filled elsewhere, which can lead to unhealthy relationships. I also think it is imperative for parents to talk about what a healthy relationship is like (assuming they can!). Expose your kids to people in long-term marriages and ask them to talk to your kids about how to make it work. Pre-marital counseling is very useful for couples who have divorced parents, but often unhealthy patterns have developed by the time you get to counseling.

Divorce need not be inevitable for kids of divorced parents and Gen X needs to think about how they can keep divorce from spreading to the next generation.

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Keeping Summer Vacation Fun in a Divorced Family

photo courtesy of federico stevanin

Kids wait all year for summer vacation.  But when parents are divorced or separated, summer vacation becomes more complicated.  Kids look forward to long days with their friends doing nothing.  When they have a parenting schedule to live with, summer loses some of its fun.  Your child needs to spend time with both parents – that’s a given.  So how do you keep the parenting schedule from messing up your child’s summer dreams?

Plan around it. If you and your child dream of lazy days at the beach or crazy afternoons at an amusement park, plan your family’s schedule around the parenting schedule.  Try to work, clean the house, or do volunteer work while your child is with the other parent.  Save the big events for days when your child is with you.  If you have children and step children with conflicting schedules, talk with both sets of parents and look for a way to make adjustments so that you can all have family time together once in a while.

Welcome friends. One of the biggest concerns kids have about schedule is not being able to see their friends.  Make it clear friends are welcome at your home anytime.  If you’re the non-custodial parent, go the extra step and offer to drive the friends (who probably live near your child’s other home) to your home.

Make other plans. Whether you’re the custodial or non-custodial parent, it’s impossible to be with your child the entire time he or she is at your house.  Look for alternatives that will keep your child happy and occupied while you’re busy.  Look for a class or day camp that ties into his or her interests – zoo camp, art camp, soccer camp – the choices are huge.  Planning this activity will give your child something to do and will ease any guilt you might feel (you shouldn’t!) about not being completely available.

Think of yourself. Be sure to plan some adult fun for the days your child is away.  You’re supposed to enjoy the summer too and those days on your own are the perfect times to explore new places, meet people, and expand your own horizons.

Remember what it’s like to be a kid. There were plenty of times when your idea of a good time was sleeping till noon, spending 4 hours in front of the tv, or plugging yourself into a video game.  The same probably holds true for your child.  Let him or her have time to just veg.  You don’t need to plan excursions and events every time your child is at your home.  Let there be time for just being a kid.

Relax. Stop pressuring yourself to create the perfect summer for your child.  If you look back you probably will find that your favorite summer memories are of small, everyday things.  You’re not a cruise director; you’re a parent.  There’s a lot to be said for quiet dinners on the porch, picnics in the backyard, ice cream cones on a hot night, and fun in the sprinkler together.

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The Seven-Year Itch Really Does End Marriages

A new report from the Census department shows that while divorces are actually declining in the U.S. at long last, people who reach the 7th year of marriage have a 50/50 chance that this will be the year that ends their marriage. People tend to separate at this milestone and divorce a year later.  Marriages that make it through this time period tend to last.

That ties into what I saw when I was practicing matrimonial law. Nearly all of my clients had been married less than 8 or 9 years.

The report also said that the decline in the divorce is linked to the fact that people are waiting longer to get married. Many couples cohabitate first and the average age at first marriage is increasing. People are finishing their educations, getting jobs, and testing out the relationship waters before taking the plunge into marriage, and it’s working.

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