Tips for Divorced Co-Parents Before the School Year Begins

For parents with children, summer is often a time to relax and recharge before another busy school year begins. One of the best things you can do for your children who are traveling between two homes is to use the summer time to work with the other parent to prepare for the upcoming school year.

  1. If you have a different schedule in the summer vs. the school year, be sure to have a clearly defined “school year” placement schedule and “summer” placement schedule in your legal paperwork. That way, both parents know definitively when to switch from one schedule to the other. A suggestion: “the school year will be defined as one (1) week before school begins, not including the first day of school, until one (1) week after school ends, not including the last day of school.”
  2. Depending on how old your children are and how your children are doing in school, discuss strategies for how you will stay on top of homework, studying and assignments at each of the households. While it is great if parents could be on the same page with all of this, many parents who have separated “parent” differently. For example, in one home it may be the rule that all homework must be done right after school before you can play outside, etc. Whereas, in the other home the rule may be that you can play outside right when you get home from school, but you cannot watch any TV after dinner until all of your homework is done. While it would be best to have the children have the same routines at both homes, that may not be achievable. So, it is important that the children at least have the same expectations (i.e. homework must be completed before bed) at both homes and that the parents are committed to be on the same page for that big picture goal.
  3. Make sure that you decide how involved your children will be in extracurricular and/or school-related activities before the school year begins. Many parents in Wisconsin have joint custody, which means you have equal rights to make major legal decisions, including decisions about school, for your children. Therefore, it is important to connect with the other parent before school/activities begin to make sure you are on the same page with how involved or uninvolved your children will be after school and on the weekends. This is particularly important when one parent wishes to sign a child up for a sport that may have practice every day and tournaments/games on weekends. That almost always means that some of the scheduled activities fall over the other parent’s time, which needs to be approved by that parent. By working this all out ahead of time, you protect your children from conflict or from having to be involved in a disagreement between the parents where ultimately one parent becomes the “bad guy” to the children. The “bad guy” is usually the parent who is not in agreement with the activity the child wants to do- even if there are valid reasons for disagreement.
  4. Prepare early on for how you will successfully spare the school staff and coaches from uncomfortable encounters with you and the other parent. For example, if one parent cannot or does not behave appropriately around the other parent, discuss early (and privately) with your children’s teachers that each parent will be scheduling their own parent/teacher conference. If one parent cannot or does not behave appropriately around the other parent at your child’s soccer game, divvy out the games as soon as the schedule comes out and plan to attend only games that the other parent will not be attending. In an ideal situation, ex-spouses will be able to be around each other and behave appropriately for the sake of their children. However, this is not always the case. So, it is important to strategize ways to avoid putting your children or their teachers/coaches in uncomfortable situations.

 

If you wish to speak with an attorney about co-parenting strategies and helpful ways to address these issues in legal documents, please call our office at 414-258-1644 for a free ½ hour consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.

Common School Related Issues in Divorce and Paternity Cases

Multiethnic Group of Children with Back to School ConceptCustody related school issues: When one parent has sole custody of a child, they do not need the other parent’s permission when making major legal decisions for that child, including school related decisions. However, when parents have joint custody of a child and do not agree on, for example, where a child will go to school, there is now a “school issue” in the case.

The court considers a number of factors when making a decision regarding where a child will go to school if the parents cannot agree on a school, such as: where the child primarily resides, how old the child is, how “rooted” the child is in the current school district, what grade the child is in (will there be a natural break in the child’s schooling anyways that would require a change? i.e. Middle school to high school), the child’s involvement in the school, the child’s social life and how it would be affected, the proposed school placement parent’s ability to care for the child before and after school, and the reason the parent is requesting the school choice change (personal or for the child’s benefit).  The court can also consider the proposed school districts and schools themselves as to how they compare to one another.  While the above is not an exhaustive list of what the court can and will consider, this list includes some of the common considerations. Further, this decision is almost always made with the help of a Guardian ad Litem’s recommendation.

To read more on the factors Guardian ad Litem’s and the court considers when making custodial decisions, such as school choice, please see our blog titled “Custodial Issues Regarding School in Wisconsin” at  https://wisconsinfamilylaw.info/2014/07/24/custodial-issues-regarding-school-in-wisconsin/ .

Money related school issues: Another common set of school issues arise when parents are confused or disagree on how much each parent must contribute to school related costs and fees and what exactly qualifies as a “school related cost and fee.”

School related costs and fees are typically considered “variable expenses,” which are expenses that are above and beyond daily expenses and are, therefore, not covered by guideline child support amounts. Determining the percentage of variable expenses that each parent pays is typically determined by the amount of placement that each parent has.  For example, if you have 50% of the placement of your child each year, you likely will pay 50% of the variable expenses for your child; if you have 35% placement of your child, you will likely pay 35% of the variable expenses for your child, and so on. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but this is the general relationship that variable expenses have with placement.

Tuition, registration fees, graduation fees and school supply costs are some examples of what typically qualifies as a “school related cost and fee.” However, when parties do not define exactly what does and does not qualify, parties may disagree about what specific fees and costs require contribution from the other parent.

Often times, an issue comes up where the parties had previously agreed to send their children to private school during the marriage, but one parent no longer agree to same.  If one parent objects to private school on the basis that he or she cannot afford the tuition costs, the court will usually find in that parent’s favor and not force them to pay expensive tuition that they can no longer afford after a divorce.

It is important to include in your divorce agreement detailed language on what percentage of variable expenses, including school fees and costs, that each parent will pay, and what exactly qualifies as a “school fee and cost” to avoid disagreements related to these school issues in the future.

If you have a school issue in your pre- or post-judgment divorce or paternity matter, it is important that you have an attorney help navigate you through these issues. If you wish to meet with one of the attorneys at our office, please call 414-258-1644 to schedule a free half-hour consultation.