Once you and your STBX have separated and you’re going public with your divorce, your child’s school needs to know. You’ll need to consider how best to handle communications with your child’s school.
Liv has two children with her former husband. Her children are now aged nine and six and it’s seven years since Liv ended her marriage. The conflict between her and her ex has continued post-divorce and that has meant going to extraordinary lengths to ensure proper communication with her children’s school. Here’s Liv:
I think in a normal situation where the parents are communicating very well together that the school that my children go to, there would be no issues.
I don’t have that situation.
My ex continually makes demands of the school about the information that they send and the stuff that he needs to be able to see and sign. And in the end, its very complicated. It’s gotten easier and this year, it’s been the easiest transition for me. I think if only because the principal has been very involved and probably most of the teachers at the school are aware of my ex and the difficulties he presents.
At the beginning of school there’s a ton of forms that come home. My ex feels that he needs to put his own stamp on them even though I am legally the primary caregiver of my children. He insists that their address should be his address. So, he will send back forms with his address as the children’s address on them and he often will just put his information on the forms so if there’s a contact required, it’s usually just his name and phone number there.
There was another form that the teacher sent home. It was basically an introduction to our son. She wanted us to kind of give her some background on what was going on at home and how he was doing in school and how we felt he learned and on the back was some information about his health and his locker combination and that sort of thing. My ex sent back pretty much one word answers on each of the questions. Again he put his address and only his information on the back. As to his health, my son’s asthmatic, he didn’t mention that. He also didn’t happen to mention that our son has a learning disability and that perhaps until we had the opportunity to speak to the teacher it might be important for her to know that.
By a fluke that form came home to me. I wouldn’t have even known about it except that my son had forgotten to take it out of his bag
I sent his form back in and then because, at that point, I hadn’t spoken to the teacher and arranged for her to send home two copies of everything. I ended up just rewriting the form and answering the questions with more than one word answers to give her an idea of the fact that our son has a tutor and the fact that he has difficulty writing and he shouldn’t be forced to write or print neatly if he’s getting frustrated or sometimes he has difficulty with attention. And of course on the back, I put his actual address and all of the contact information including mine and my ex’s. And my now-husband’s in the event that neither of us are available. And I made sure that I noted that our son was asthmatic.
I’m of the mind that if the school doesn’t need to know something, they don’t need to know. But on the first day of school my ex brought in a copy of the court order. The school was aware that we were having difficulties and he just kind of basically forced himself on the school. If we could have cooperated and communicated appropriately with the school it would have been a lot easier. But they do have a copy of the court order.
Once every term, I send in a copy of the calendar with the custody schedule so the teachers know who the children are being released to every night. Our custody arrangement is actually quite complicated because it’s based on his work schedule. He thinks they should be able to figure it out from the court order but unless you know which day it is on the agreement it doesn’t make any sense at all. So, I calendarize it for them. They know that if something doesn’t come back it’s probably because the children were at dads house.
We’ve never had an issue where one of us hasn’t picked the children up. The school has the schedule so that if something happens they can look at it and determine who the child is supposed to be with that day if they want to. But they’ve all been told if there’s a problem to call mom first. If it’s dad’s day mom will call dad. But if it’s mom’s day, dad won’t necessarily call mom.
For the most part I try to leave the teachers out of it if I can. If it becomes a power struggle or we’re having some sort of an issue where we’re going back and forth a lot and the teacher needs to be aware of it, I do make them aware of it.
I don’t like to call the school and say, “I’m having a problem with my ex again. I need you to do something.” But I’m kind of put in a corner. I don’t have a choice most of the time. I have to explain why I need something. For the most part they’ve been very understanding.
Follow Liv’s blog at Live By Surprise.
The Divorce Coach Says
If you’re in the early stages of divorce, then reading this could be a real eye opener for the sort of school communication challenges that can characterize a high-conflict divorce. Even if you’re not in a high-conflict situation I think it’s helpful to read because it’s going to help you identify the situations that you and your STBX need to address.
I do want to reassure you that while there may be a few bumps while you work through the first time of doing anything as divorced parents, if you’re like the majority of divorced parents, you will figure out a workable solution and your child will not suffer. What Liv has experienced doesn’t happen to everyone and ideally you and your ex will commit to co-parenting together to ensure this doesn’t happen.
Setting up communications with your child’s school needs to happen on a couple of levels.
The first of these is with the school administration and applies to items like biographical information, emergency contacts, medical records and accommodations. With school districts adopting online record-keeping systems this is becoming easier and these systems should allow both of you to have independent access i.e. no shared log ons – so you can both stay up-to-date on attendance, schedules, grades and emergency notifications.
If both you and your ex have shared decision-making and shared access to educational records, then there’s a good chance you’ll be able to figure out how to submit the information to the administration yourselves, even if it means you doing it and you telling your ex.
If however there are restrictions on decision-making and/or restraining orders then the administration absolutely must be made aware of this and they will likely want to see court orders. You will need to discuss with them what processes and safeguards they can follow to comply with the court orders.
The other level you’ll need to communicate with are the teachers. They may already have observed some changes in your child’s behavior and suspect that there are changes at home. I would recommend that you take the time to meet each of your child’s teachers separately. You’ll want to review their normal process for sending home communications and then discuss workable solutions for your situation especially for parent-teacher conferences. If there are access restrictions then you’ll want to share these with the teachers – don’t assume that the administration will communicate these.
It is a lot to think about and it does create extra work at the start of each school year especially if your child is starting at a new school or your children attend different schools. However, I’m a big believer that when you make the investment to do this up front, it makes the rest of the semester smoother and it’s setting the stage for your child to be successful in school. It also helps to remember that divorced families do not hold a monopoly on mis-communications, lost permission slips and late homework.
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