It’s Back to School Time for the Kids – Now What?
Back to school time for children is bittersweet for most families. By the time August rolls around, many kids are bored with their summer and ready to go back to school. And, for many parents, they are ready for the kids to leave the nest again. But, with children of separated or divorced parents, if not handled appropriately, kids can return to school with added anxiety that can and should be avoided.
As attorneys providing advice, we often tell our clients “Look, your kids will be fine so long as you and your ex-spouse project a unified front.” We routinely tell our clients, if the children think you are fine, they’ll likely be fine. But, if your children sense the bickering, arguing, or indifference toward each other, they become anxious. Remember, children, at their cores, are people pleasers. They want to please their parents and take the anxiety they feel from a parent as being their fault in some way.
Starting school or returning to school can be an anxious time for any child, and parents. The last thing children needs is for their parents to be arguing about who pays for school supplies, who is taking them school shopping, how they are getting to and from school, where are they going after school, and who is making lunch, amongst a myriad of other questions that could pop into a child’s mind.
What can you do when you and the other parent are having difficulty discussing these issues? Well, the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath. It will be okay.
The next thing you need to do is consider what is happening, from your child’s perspective. Work with the other parent to divvy up shopping for school supplies and clothes. If you can, handle it before school starts. If that’s not possible, then handle it once your child gets the list from school. If your ex-spouse will not assist with the school supplies, then take care of them on your own. Your child doesn’t need to hear that his mother or father would not help purchase the supplies or clothes. Just take care of it, the best you can, and work with your ex-spouse about the importance of working together for your child, or shake your head at the nonsense, let it roll off your shoulders and move on. You can’t force someone to do the right thing if his or her mind has already been made up.
If your child is anxious about the parenting schedule once school starts, post a calendar on the refrigerator so your child can see exactly where he or she will be every day. If possible, share that calendar with the other parent and ask that parent to also put it on the refrigerator so the child can see it. And, if the other parent won’t agree to do it, then shake your head at the nonsense, let it roll off your shoulders and move on.
Your kids should not hear or sense your frustration if you simply cannot work together with the other parent. Sometimes you may not be able to manage the financial impact if you have a parent who will not assist with these basic needs. You may have to file a child support action in order to get some assistance.
If you are the primary parent, Worksheet A of the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines is the likely tool you will use to determine child support. Generally speaking, the obligation is meant to cover things like school supplies, clothing, and lunches. It is not designed to cover additional things like field trips, school pictures, and the like. If the other parent is the primary parent, then know you will be paying child support designed to cover ordinary school supplies, clothing, and lunches.
If you are sharing custody whereby each of you has a child in your care for over 120 days, generally speaking you will calculate support under Worksheet B of the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines, but doing so also means that you will share equally in all expenses for the child.
Some parents, who have a shared arrangement, opt to use Worksheet A still so that 1 parent has the primary responsibility for providing school supplies, clothing, lunches, etc. You have to decide what works best for your family. The important thing to remember is that this is about your children – it is not about your feelings toward the other parent. Your children deserve parents who will put their differences aside and do what’s in the children’s best interest, including supporting their children financially whether it be by child support, purchasing school supplies, school clothes, uniforms, or lunches, or assisting with payments for field trips and school pictures.
And, don’t forget the parent portal. It can be so useful to track your child’s progress at school. For children attending Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, the website is http://www.cms.k12.nc.us/parents/ParentAssistant/Pages/default.aspx. And, it’s likely there is an online portal for other schools in the area as well. Make sure you ask about it at your child’s school.
If you and your spouse can’t work out a parenting schedule that allows for a smooth transition between households, you may find that you need to seek the advice of an attorney. It can be difficult being a school-aged child of separated parents, but it will be okay if you and the other parent make a commitment to each other that you will make it okay for your children. There are plenty of options available to you that do not involve litigation, and will assist you and the other parent with coming to terms regarding a parenting schedule that works for your family.
Your family will be most successful if you can learn to get along, for the kids’ sakes. And you may have to shake your head at the nonsense but also move on your for kids’ sakes.
Deb is a family law attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina.