August means parents and children alike begin to turn their thoughts back to school. There’s a lot to do to prepare students for their new classrooms. While you are refreshing wardrobes and buying school supplies, don’t forget this back-to-school checklist for co-parents.
It can be easy for married parents of school-aged children to take their parental rights and authority for granted. But when co-parents are unmarried or divorced, it can be more complicated. Here are a few things to remember during the Back-to-School season.
Resolve Conflicts About School Enrollment Early
Don’t wait until the first week of school to discuss enrollment with your co-parent. Most school districts have early cut-offs for new student registration. If your custody order grants you joint legal custody, you and your co-parent must discuss and hopefully agree upon educational decisions, including where you child will attend school. Make sure you have this conversation early, so that you can take the matter to court if you have to and still meet the school district’s enrollment deadlines.
Sign Up to Receive Parents’ Information from the School District
If your child is changing schools, and especially school districts, it is important for both co-parents to provide contact information to the administrator’s office. Many custody orders specifically require the custodial parent to provide this information about the non-custodial parent. However, to avoid confusion, treat that order as if it goes both ways. Parents often confuse legal custody with their parental rights. Even if your custody order gives the other parent sole legal custody, you still have the right to receive educational information from your child’s school. However, school administrators are sometimes not fully informed on this difference. If a principal or school counselor says you are not allowed to receive this information, your family lawyer may be able to provide clarification or assist you in protect your parental rights.
Give Your Custody and Parenting Time Order to the School
Modern schools must be very careful about who they release children to during the day or even following after-school activities. Unmarried co-parents may find themselves facing unhappy administrators or even police when they try to pick up their children unannounced. To avoid this, make sure to provide a copy of your custody and parenting time order to the school at the start of the school year, or whenever it changes. This will avoid awkward phone calls and unwanted contact with the primary custodial parent during your parenting time.
Schedule Your Child’s Annual Check-Up with Both Parents in Mind
Many parents, both married and unmarried, use Back-to-School as a reminder to schedule doctors’ appointments for their children. You may be keeping up to date on vaccinations, or getting physicals so your children can participate in extracurricular activities. No matter what brings you and your child into the doctor’s office, remember that joint legal custody gives both co-parents the right to be involved in a child’s medical care. Try to schedule doctors’ appointments with both parents’ schedules in mind. Reach out to your co-parent to find out whether he or she plans to attend. If a doctor recommends significant medical treatment, such as braces or allergy shots, be sure to discuss it with your co-parent before making medical decisions. If you and your co-parent disagree on the treatment, you may need to take the matter to mediation, or even file a motion in court.
Review Extra-Curricular Schedules with Your Co-Parent
Whether your child is a performer, an academic, or an athlete, extracurricular schedules often create conflicts with parenting time. Generally speaking, the parent exercising custody on a particular day is responsible for transporting his or her children to and from extracurricular activities. This is true even if the other parent enrolled them in the activities. Weekend tournaments or daily practice schedules often overlap with non-custodial parents’ visitation. If a school team regularly schedules practices during visitation, it may be a good idea to adjust the midweek parenting time to suit the child’s schedule. That said, if one parent is intentionally selecting extracurriculars that interfere with the other parent’s parenting time, that may be grounds for a conversation or motion.
Back-to-School can create a list of problems for co-parents trying to exercise their custody and parenting time orders. Be proactive to take care of any school-related conflict ahead of time so they don’t interfere with your rights or your visitation throughout the school year.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family lawyer at Schmidt & Long, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. If you are facing school enrollment or parenting time problems, contact Schmidt & Long today for a free consultation.