Getting through the school year is tough enough, but trying to navigate through the school year with a high-conflict co-parent is even tougher. Here are some tips to reduce stress.
1. Make sure the school has all the important information they will need for each of you. By taking the time to provide each parent’s mailing address, email address, and any other relevant contact information, you’ll save yourself time and hassle. Included in this information should be copies of your custody agreement and parental access agreement so that the school knows who the primary caregiver is during the course of each school day. Schools are required by law to honor the custody agreement and, unless permission has been granted otherwise, they cannot release your child to the other parent if it is not their parenting time.
2. All school documents you receive that you need to share with your ex should be scanned and emailed or delivered by certified mail. By using these methods, you are protecting yourself from the accusation that you are excluding your ex from your child’s education. Remember, sending documents with your child to your ex is putting the child in the middle. Never put your child in the middle.
3. Money is a hot topic for a high-conflict ex and this is where strong parental agreement comes into play. Some people feel that if they pay child support, then they shouldn’t be responsible for paying any other extra costs that come with school, like tuition, field trips, Santa shops, and dress down days. By having a strong co-parent agreement, you can avoid the conflict that comes with the financial aspects of the school. For example: Joe agreed to pay all of the private school expenses, but because everything wasn’t described in detail, Sarah ended up paying over $1000 in additional expenses related to sending her son to private school. Do not fool yourself! Know your deal! But don’t make it into a battle. Remember, your child is the important person and if he needs money for something at school, give it to him instead of putting him in the middle of a battle. They have enough on their plates to get through the year without parents fighting over money. If you are the parent responsible for the extra expenses and your son is staying with his ex the night before Santa’s Shop or field trip, be sure to give your son the money before he leaves.
4. Using a shared calendar with your ex where each of you can put activity and homework schedules for the child will alleviate some of the confusion in communication with your ex. All is well there for each of you to see. This method also serves to demonstrate to court workers (judges, attorneys, therapists, GALs) how effectively each of you communicates, co-parents, and meets the child’s educational needs. There are a multitude of great programs for co-parents to connect with. It’s up to you to find one that suits your needs.
5. Request that your school provide 2 sets of textbooks for your child so that both you and your ex have a set in your own homes. By choosing to do this, you reduce the chance that your child won’t have the right books to study, do homework, or take to school, and that reduces your child’s stress.
6. Plan ahead when it comes to school projects. Help your child start projects early so they are finished early and at the parent’s house the night before the due date.
7. Teacher conferences are held several times during the school year. Check your co-parent agreement to find out who is responsible for attending, if you are going together, have separate appointments, just one parent, or if an independent representative is attending. It is up to you to know your agreement.
8. Never talk negatively about your ex with teachers, the principal, or any administrative staff member. Your job is to educate your child, not to play therapist. While most schools understand divorced or separated households and are willing to accommodate their needs, they prefer to be neutral and that should be respected.
Remember that this is your child’s education, so forget about what’s “fair” and put your child’s needs before your own emotional responses. The goal is for your child to be stress-free and for the school year to run smoothly.