Getting through the school year is hard enough, but trying to navigate through the school year with a high conflict co-parent is even more difficult. Here are some tips to lessen the stress.
1. Make sure that the school has all of the important information that they will require for each of you. By taking the time to provide them with each parents mailing address, email address and any other pertinent contact information, you will save yourself some time and grief. Included in this information should be copies of your custody agreement and parental access agreement so that the school is aware of who the primary caregiver is during the course of each school day. Schools must, by law, follow the custody agreement and, unless permission has been granted otherwise, can not release your child to the other parent if it isn’t their parenting time.
2. Any school papers that you receive and need to be shared with your ex should be scanned and emailed or delivered by certified mail. In using these methods you are protecting yourself from the accusation that you are excluding your ex in your child’s education. Please remember, sending papers 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 button issue for a high conflict ex and this is where a strong co parent agreement comes in to 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 such as tuition, field trips, Santa Stores and dress down days. By having a strong co parent agreement in place, you can avoid the conflict that comes with the financial aspects of school. For example: Joe agreed to pay for all the private school expenses but because everything wasn’t outlined in detail, Sarah ended up paying out over $1000 in extra expenses that were involved in sending their child to private school. Don’t set yourself up! Know your agreement! But don’t turn it in to a battle. Remember, your child is the important person and if they need money for something at school, give it to them rather than putting them 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 that is responsible for the extra expenses and your child will be staying with your ex the night before the Santa Store or field trip, make sure that you provide your child with the money before they leave.
4. Using a shared calendar with your ex that each of you can put the activities and homework schedules for the child will alleviate some of the turmoil in communicating with your ex. Everything is all right there for each of you to see. This method also serves to show proof to any court workers (judges, lawyers, therapists, GALs) how effectively each one of you is communicating, co parenting and meeting the child’s educational needs. There are a multitude of great programs out there for co parents to communicate through. It’s up to you to find one that suits your needs.
5. Request that your school provides 2 sets of textbooks for your child so that both you and your ex have a set at your own homes. In choosing to do this, it reduces the chance that your child will not have the right books for studying, homework or to take to school and that reduces the stress on your child.
6. Plan ahead when it comes to school projects. Help your child to start the projects early so that they will be done early and at the appropriate parent’s home the night before they are due.
7. Teacher conferences are held multiple times during the school year. Refer to your co parent agreement to tell you who is responsible for attending, whether you are to go together, have separate appointments, only one parent or if an independent representative is to attend. It is up to you to know your agreement.
8. Never speak negatively about your ex to teachers, principal or any administrative staff. Their job is to educate your child, not play therapist. While most schools understand divorced or separate homes and are willing to comply with their needs, they prefer to be neutral and that needs to be respected.
Remember that this is your child’s education so forget about what is “fair” and put your child’s needs ahead of your own emotional responses. The goal is for your child to be stress free and for the school year to run smoothly.