School Daze: Planning Ahead Can Help Unify Your Divided Home

Your kids may have new clothes, sneakers, book bags, pencils and pens, but as they head back to the classroom, do they have everything they need to succeed? If you’re divorced or divorcing and have shared custody, that school list may extend beyond supplies to some practice strategies.

Heather Locus, certified divorce finance advisor and author of The Next Chapter – A Practical Roadmap for Successfully Navigating Through, and Beyond, Divorce, suggests using this time to “reset expectations, goals and boundaries.”  The new school year can be the perfect time to renew your shared commitment to your children and bridge any previous communication gaps, says Locus in a recent article for Forbes magazine.

Ready to go back to school? Consider these ideas for getting your family off to the right start:

Focus on Your Child(ren)’s Goals

Ask your kids what their goals are for the year and write down the top three you mutually agree on,” Locus suggests. “Discuss their biggest challenges and how you can help.”

This is an opportunity for both parents to be involved (when possible). Even if you didn’t agree on goals in your marriage, creating a united front to help your child try out for the basketball team or prepare for the ACTs is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your love and support for them — and respect for each other.

However, “if there is too much tension for you to have the discussion together,” says Locus, “encourage your kids to discuss the goals you agree to with their other parent.”

Either way, taking time to listen to your child’s hopes (and fears) for the new school year may yield some new ideas for how you can all work together as a family.

Budget for Extracurricular Expenses

Although your divorce agreement may specify who pays for your child’s basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, etc.), it may not have foreseen the need for new cross-country spikes, a French Horn, or a trip to Paris with the French club. At the beginning of the school year, Locus advises addressing who will pay for extra supplies and events like homecoming, field trips, uniforms or incremental expenses before the need arises.

Other financial issues may come to the fore as your children get older. For example, Locus stresses the importance of agreeing on how much older children should be expected to pay for their own activities through allowance, babysitting or other jobs. Getting on the same financial page will help prevent future disappointments or misunderstandings.

Who’s the Uber?

Alongside the expenses, there are also logistics to consider as you plan for your child(ren)’s activities. It’s challenging enough for married couples to chart out a schedule for carpools to football practice, who will attend the out of state swim meet, or how to get multiple children to multiple activities on the same night. Planning ahead and sticking to that plan is even more important for divorced parents.

Many parents simply divide and conquer. Dad handles soccer matches while Mom takes on the swim meets. Or Dad delivers Junior to the meet and Mom is there to pick him up. To keep your kids on track, consider creating a shared calendar (such as Google, Cozi, the Hub Family Organizer or other apps) to keep up with practices, games, parties and events. A central calendar app can be an easy, transparent way to keep up with commitments. Then, as new activities are added or updated, everyone has access to the same information.

The beginning of the school year marks a rite of passage as your children start the next chapter of their education and their lives. No doubt their changing interests and needs will bring about new challenges and opportunities. Divorced parents who share custody can also use the beginning of the school year to start anew.