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Negotiating a Back-to-School Parenting Plan

Mom putting on son's backpack

Co-parenting following a divorce can be a chore even under the best circumstances. Add COVID-19, the fact that kids under 12 can’t yet be vaccinated and another school year looming, it can cause a lot of friction.

Last year, back-to-school decisions were the source of much contention within families, as vaccines weren’t yet widely available and parents had several schooling options. In May, New Jersey Governor Philip D. Murphy announced virtual school would no longer be an option for public school students during the 2021-2022 school year. Of course, that was before the delta variant began making its deadly rounds, and some parents are pushing for remote learning to remain.

Ideally, whatever parenting plan you have in place already considers the back-to-school schedule. But our Freehold child custody attorneys recognize that with the situation with the pandemic being as dynamic as it is, you may have shifted on your previous position. A post-judgment modification may be in order. If you’re having trouble working with your co-parent to reach a reasonable agreement or hammering out the details, you may consider mediation to get you both on the same page. In either case, the Court will need to sign off on the updated plan in order for it to be enforceable.

Many parents in New Jersey have a joint parenting plan, wherein each parent has 50-50 decision-making responsibility regarding education. Most parenting plans that are structured this way require parents to attend alternative dispute resolution (i.e., mediation) if a dispute arises. Failure to cooperate may not look great for the other parent, though the matter will ultimately be decided on the facts based on what’s in the best interests of the child.

A Good Time To Review Your Parenting Plan Regardless

Even if you both agree on the issue of your child returning to a brick-and-mortar classroom, this may be a good time to review your existing parenting plan to make sure it still aligns with where you both are and the best interests of your child. COVID altered circumstances for many people, whether that involved changes in jobs (or job risks), living situations, daily schedules and relationships. Grandparents who were previously heavily involved in helping with childcare before the pandemic may be less inclined to continue that arrangement.

Some basic ideas for parenting plans involving school-age kids:

  • Your custody schedule should provide as much contact with both parents as possible.
  • Strive for structure and consistency. Schedules should be consistent and limit the number of transitions between households. We see much conflict arise when one or both parents starts trying to “wing it” in terms of the schedule. Sticking to the plan helps avoid problems.
  • Use tech to get everyone on the same page. Having a clear, pre-planned schedule on a shared, virtual calendar can save so many headaches. Make sure kids know every day what the plan is, who is dropping them off, who is picking them up, where they’ll be staying and whether they have extracurriculars planned.
  • Make sure the school is in the loop. Your child’s school should know the co-parenting plan. Make sure they have both of your contact information and that both of you are receiving copies of things like handouts, report cards and lesson plans. This will keep you both informed and able to talk to each other and work together to address any issues that come up.
  • Consider attending important school events with each other - or at least, don’t split them up. You may not be able to tolerate much of each other, but it will mean a great deal to your child if you’re both at the big events: School plays, spelling bees, parent-teacher conferences, sports competitions, etc.
  • Work out the back-to-school shopping arrangements. Back-to-school can be pretty expensive, between the binders, the new clothes, the electronics and the haircuts, etc. Coordinate with each other to see who is buying what. Better yet, have a clear plan for who will cover what expenses spelled out in your parenting plan.

If your parenting plan needs to be updated, back to school is a great time to do it. Our Freehold, New Jersey child custody attorneys can help.

Contact our Freehold, NJ family law attorneys today at (732) 810-0034 to schedule an appointment.

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