After years of helping people through the process of divorce, I have noticed certain seasons are busier than others. For example, unless there is a game-changing discovery, most people are not scheduling initial divorce consultations from Thanksgiving to the New Year. It’s just an extremely busy season, and there is a spirit of hopefulness and restoration around the holidays. Now, come the first week of January, the phone rings off the hook after people suffer through another miserable holiday -but that is a post for another day.
I would say something similar for late summer when its back-to-school time. Parents are helping their kids move into college dorms or new apartments. Kids are gearing up for volleyball, football, cheer, dance, and soccer. There are school supplies and new uniforms to buy, last minute vacations to take and the excitement of the beginning of a journey -even if it’s the journey through 8th grade with new teachers, coaches, and friends. If you are divorced or waking through troubles in your marriage, this can be a very stressful and anxiety driven time of year. Summer is more carefree, but with the start of school, there are more demands on our time, energy and money as parents, but there is also the opportunity with the structure of schedules to create good collaborative habits with your co-parent.
After 23 plus years of working with families going back to school in the shadow of divorce, I offer the following helpful tips:
- Communication is Key: Make sure both parent’s contact information is on all email lists and group chats for school, teams, lessons and everything else going on in the life of your child. Fortunately communication is so easy and readily accessible in the smartphone age, so there is no reason one parent should be left in the dark. If communication is a challenge for your family, consider tools like Talking Parents and Our Family Wizard smartphone apps, which are designed for families in conflict and can be the hub of communication. Open communication does not mean healthy boundaries should not be maintained, but err on the side of more talking, information exchange and interaction.
- Stay on top of Reimbursements: Many Mississippi divorces have provisions which require shared expenses for children over and above child support, which is paid from the custodial parent to the non-custodial parent for food, clothing, and shelter. Add-on expenses could also be required by a divorce contract for daycare, afterschool care, school and non-school extracurricular activities, private school costs, automobile expenses, cellular phone expenses and college fees. First, it is important to read, understand and even summarize each parent’s financial responsibilities. Once you understand what your divorce says, it is important to consistently follow its provisions. These days, it is very easy to take a picture or create a PDF from your phone to document invoices, payments, receipts, EOB’s and any other information required to be exchanged for reimbursement or payment. It is a terrible idea to wait until months later to seek payment from your former spouse when you can sit down, gather the information you documented with your phone, and send it to the spouse from whom you need reimbursement monthly. Also, electronic payment methods like Venmo, Zelle, Cash App and PayPal make reimbursement seamless and easy to document. Honestly, any person with a smartphone can provide all the essential information exchange and reimbursements required with just a few taps. If you are having trouble in this area and you do not have a divorce contract or temporary order, you may need to talk to your attorney about options.
- Do Stuff Together: It may sound novel and crazy but consider doing important things with the other parent like the first day of school, attending parent/teacher conferences or sitting together for a first pep rally or band performance. Listen, regardless of what has happened, when you have children together, you will be dealing with one another directly or indirectly for the rest of your lives. Parents who put their differences aside for the children’s best interests in and around back-to-school events are healthier and happier.
- Keep the Backpack with the Kid: If your child goes back and forth between houses, things are going to get left behind. This may be the cheer uniform, soccer cleats or the English paper due tomorrow. Having kids means making sacrifices, so be reasonable when it comes to their stuff and communicate about their schedules and schoolwork. I believe it is best for a child to have most of what they need at both homes, but it is impractical to have two of everything, which is why their backpack needs to be with them at all times. Whether you like it or not, your child is stuck in the middle between you and your ex (or soon to be ex). The last thing you need to do is fight over their shoes or favorite hoodie. Occasionally, you may have to be at the performance a few minutes early to deliver the pom poms left behind over the weekend, but that is the job of a parent, regardless of marital status.
- Share: Most parents take dozens of pictures of their kids each month. When you are divorced or divorcing, you are going to miss moments in the growth, development, and maturation process of your kids. Be a good human and share a picture or two with their other parent when they are unable to attend something. Let them get it directly from you before they see it on Instagram, Facebook or TikTok. Encourage your kids to call and spend time with their non-custodial parent. Your kids are not your possessions. They should not be your primary companion, place to obtain emotional support or best friend. Your job as a mom or dad is to create a healthy, happy, well-adjusted person who has the individual skill set to pave their own path in the world.
- Get a Therapist: Parenting is hard whether you are married or not. Parenting is even harder when you and your co-parent are not on the same page. Your friends are tired of hearing about your relational problems, so let your insurance company pay a professional listener for you. If you want to help your child, take care of yourself. This means eating well, exercising, having hobbies, and caring for your mental well-being.
I am sure you can google “back to school divorce tips” and see dozens of other resources, and the ideas above are as much about having common sense as they are derived from my years of navigating conflict. If you do your part to promote the best interests of your children and treat your co-parent the way you would like to be treated, your kids will have a great school year and so will you. If you need help figuring it out, request a consultation and one of our attorneys will give you unbiassed, third party feedback about navigating back-to-school and divorce.
Craig Robertson is the founder of Robertson + Easterling. For over 20 years, he has practiced exclusively high net worth divorce and complicated family law in Mississippi. Over the course of his career, he has worked with multiple nationally and internationally known high profile individuals. You will want him in your corner because he believes every case is his most important, and he knows the things you care about deeply are at stake –family, safety, and security. He is strategic, collaborative, creative and a retired cheer dad who spends many hours in the fall on the volleyball sidelines.