When the wounds are fresh, it can be difficult to get along with an ex-spouse following divorce. But setting differences aside and putting children first are essential for the long-term health and happiness of your kids. With the new school year upon us, we asked Dallas Divorce Attorney Christine Powers Leatherberry to share advice to help newly divorced parents kick off co-parenting and the school year on the right foot.
No. 1: Commit to open communication and inclusion from day one.
Communication is the key to successful co-parenting (and is an underlying theme throughout this post). If you receive information regarding your child and their needs and activities, be sure to share it with your ex-spouse. Agree to keep each other in the loop.
No. 2: Set up a shared family calendar and update it diligently.
This is the key to following through on tip No. 1. As Christine explains, “There are a number of shared family calendars available online and some families even use Google calendars to share information about activities.
“Our firm typically recommends Our Family Wizard, because it offers a variety of helpful tools. Plus, many Texas Family Court judges require divorcing couples to communicate through Our Family Wizard and use the shared calendar.”
Within your shared calendar, you can keep track of:
- Extracurricular practices and events.
- Doctor appointments.
- Homework and project deadlines.
- School photo days.
- Family vacations and more.
No. 3: Have a conversation about back-to-school supplies.
“In Texas, back-to-school supplies are supposed to be paid for with child support. However, the cost for supplies, school uniforms, sports gear, etc., can often exceed that amount. If you want to start out on the right foot with your ex-spouse, offer to help pay for certain items. This can help set the tone for a more amicable co-parenting relationship.
“However, I do recommend paying for those designated items directly, such as taking your child school shopping at Target or paying the school directly for uniforms,” Christine says.
No. 4: Drop off your children together on the first day of school.
Though this may be a difficult for the newly divorced, it’s just one day that will be tough for you, but an important day that will speak volumes to your child. Says Christine, “This stand of unity shows the child that regardless of his or her parents’ differences, you’re all in it together.”
No. 5: Get on the same page regarding homework, deadlines and obligations.
Christine recommends that parents agree at the outset to share homework duties as equally as possible. “As a Dallas divorce attorney, I frequently run into scenarios where one parent takes on the bulk of the homework follow up while the other disregards it. This is especially problematic when large school projects are involved.
“You don’t want to pick up your child on a Sunday night at 7 p.m. and find out they have a huge diorama or book report due in the morning. This is not a fair way to co-parent and it puts unnecessary pressure on the child. Agree to keep each other informed and share homework deadlines and progress reports regularly.”
No. 6: Make sure the child’s backpack stays with the child.
Speaking of homework, to help your child stay on track and complete homework assignments on time, his or her assignment folder and necessary books and materials need to accompany him or her from home to home.
“You can even use the backpack as a talking point. Take a few moments during the exchange to communicate how far along the child is with completing his or her assignments. For example, ‘He finished three chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird and needs to knock out another three by Monday,’” explains Christine.
No. 7: Attend parent-teacher conferences together if possible.
While some parents do request separate parent teacher conferences, Christine encourages parents to attend together when possible.
As she explains, “Attending together makes it easier on the teachers, and also shows the teacher everyone is on the same team when it comes to supporting your child. If you can’t be there for some reason – due to a business trip, late meeting or if you reside out of state – you can always arrange to call in.”
No. 8: Exchange pictures with the other parent.
“Another positive way to show your commitment to co-parenting is to text or email photos to each other when one parent isn’t able to be present at important events and milestones,” Christine says.
No. 9: Keep former in-laws and your ex’s family history in the mix.
According to Christine, “Children often have school assignments that require family information and photos. For example, they may be asked to research their family tree or create a photo collage. If you omit or discount the other half of your child’s family, you’re also discounting half of your child. So do your best to represent both sides equally.”
Including your ex-spouse’s family members at birthday parties, baseball games, ballet recitals and other events is another great way to demonstrate a united front post-divorce.
No. 10: Share “breaking” health information a.s.a.p.
If you hear pink eye is running rampant at your child’s school, inform the other parent immediately. “While the school nurse may eventually notify parents of health concerns by email, it’s helpful for both parents to have that information right away, so they can be on the look out for symptoms.
“Also, if your child wakes up with a fever and stays home for the day, that is another scenario where it’s important to alert the other parent as soon as possible. This is especially true if an exchange is planned for that evening,” Christine says.
No. 11: Plan for inclement weather (ice days) and teacher in-service days.
While decrees and child custody orders typically spell out who is responsible for taking the children when bad weather arises and on teacher in-service days, the unpredictability of those scenarios can lead to confusion.
Christine encourages parents to agree to be flexible in these situations. As she explains, “It isn’t unusual for one parent to have a more flexible job than the other. So for those occasions when it’s difficult to follow the strict letter of the law in your custody order, planning how to deal with those days in advance is key.”
No. 12: Work with a parent facilitator to iron out roadblocks.
If you and your ex-spouse disagree on issues pertaining to your children, a parent facilitator can help sort things out.
According to Christine, “A parent facilitator is an excellent, objective resource who can help settle disputes such as whether a private school or public school is best for the child, how related costs will be paid and by whom, who pays for uniforms, etc. Or if one parent feels the child is over-scheduled with ballet, karate, violin and more, that’s something a parent facilitator can help resolve too.”
Christine Powers Leatherberry is a compassionate family lawyer who is equally comfortable in the courtroom as she is counseling her clients one-on-one. She is a past chair of the Dallas Junior Board of the Big Brothers Big Sisters and was a Big Sister to the same Little for 11 years. To learn more about your divorce and child custody options, please call (214) 617-1583 to speak confidentially with a knowledgeable and considerate member of the Connatser Family Law team.