Going back to school can be a stressful time for kids and parents alike — there are lunches to pack, alarms to set, PTO meetings to attend, and reading logs to complete. If you are recently separated or divorced, you may have even more back-to-school balls in the air as you juggle your new parenting schedule, splitting school-related expenses, and, most importantly, making the transition into a new school year as smooth as possible for your children.
POPSUGAR spoke with Nicole Sodoma, a family law attorney and Certified Parenting Coordinator based out of Charlotte, NC, to get some tips that might make life just a little bit easier for separated parents. Sodoma's insights into heading back to school as a two-household family will help to alleviate some of that stress — and even address potential conflicts before they pop up.
What's the best way for divorced parents to stay informed on school schedules?
When you add after-school practices and parent-teacher conferences to an already busy schedule, it can be hard to keep up. Nicole advises her clients to set up a joint email account that both parents have access to. "This email account can be used for book orders, club and sports schedules, and really anything school-related that both parents need to know about," she said.
The beauty of using an email system to stay organised is that you can sync events with your calendar and even your in-home smart speaker (like Google Home or Amazon Alexa) so parents and kids know what is going on from day to day. "Kids thrive on routine, and this is one way that you can help ease the transition for them," Nicole said.
How should divorced parents split school-related expenses?
"Oftentimes, your parenting agreement (a written document that outlines how you and your ex-partner will handle the care of your child) may address school-related expenses, but they don't always account for every possible scenario," Nicole told POPSUGAR. "Check the wording of your agreement and make sure it clearly defines what is included, who is covered, and how and when you will handle reimbursements." To stay organised, Nicole recommends Our Family Wizard, a coparenting app that allows you to send payments and track expenses (among other features).
To ensure both parents stay within their budget, she often has clients open a joint bank account where they both deposit funds that can be used throughout the year for school expenses. "Once the agreed-upon balance is used up, it is up to each parent's discretion if they would like to take on anything additional that comes up."
What should divorced parents do when unexpected changes come up during the school year?
Even the most thought-out plans can sometimes hit a roadblock. Nicole's foremost advice is to rely on your written agreement or court order. "If your current agreement doesn't cover the unexpected, such as sick days, inclement weather, doctor's visits, or holidays, you may be able to request a change through a mediator, Parenting Coordinator, or the court system. Even if you have a good working relationship with your coparent, it's always better to have these things in writing so there are no surprises."
How should divorced parents communicate updates about their child?
Utilising a coparenting app and/or a joint email account should cover most of your concerns, but what about the little things you may miss out on when you aren't with your child? Nicole suggests parents send regular updates back and forth that cover topics such as grades, milestones, discipline procedures (to keep things consistent between households), and house rules and routines (again, for consistency). "This can be so useful to help parents keep the lines of communication open and know what is happening in their children's day-to-day lives even when they aren't with them," she said.
What should divorced parents do if their coparenting plan isn't working?
If the plan you put in place isn't meeting your needs now that school is back in session, there are a few ways you can go about changing it. Nicole prefers to start with a Parenting Coordinator, an attorney or mental health professional who is appointed by the court to help parents resolve any issues that may come up. "Once a custody agreement or order is signed, a Parenting Coordinator acts as a guiding party, helping parents to come to an agreement on other parenting issues in dispute without ever having to enter a courtroom again," Nicole explained. "With good communication, the right resources, and proper planning, back-to-school issues can be minimized so parents and students can enjoy the start of a new school year."