Back to School – Beyond School Supplies
With the end of the summer fast approaching, separated and divorced parents face some challenges that intact families may not. Before you buy school supplies and have your children board the bus, have you considered the following questions? It is important to consider whether the commencement of the school year will have a legal implication for your family.
Legal Custody is defined as the right of parents to make decisions about the best interests of their children including decisions about education, religion, medical needs, etc. Where legal custody is shared between the parents, the parents must work together to reach decisions that are in the best interests of the child(ren). Decisions regarding enrollment in a school within the appropriate school district or private school, educational decisions and individualized educational plans, tutoring, participation in extra-curricular activities and sports, emergency contacts, etc. Will any of your children be starting school for the first time or starting in a new school in the fall? And if so, have you obtained your co-parent’s consent? Parents need to work together to reach decisions and find a way to communicate effectively to keep each other informed regarding ongoing legal custody issues.
Physical Custody is defined as the agreement or Order that determines where the child(ren) reside during the school year and the specific schedule that the parents follow to implement that agreement/order. The agreement or Order may detail where, when, how custody exchanges of the children occur and other transportation issues, what the plan is if school is out for inclement weather or emergency or if the child is ill, and whether or not a parent may pick up the child from school outside of their custodial time. A written agreement or Court Order for Custody is essential and may be appropriate to provide to the school for clarity and implementation.
Child Support is the obligation of the parent to the primary custodian of the child(ren). Where physical custody is shared on an equal basis, child support is the obligation of the parent who has the greater earnings or earning capacity. The start of the school year may lead to the need to seek a child support agreement or Order or to modify the same. If the physical custody schedule has changed due to a new school, that could be a reason to modify child support. Have you and your co-parent discussed/agreed upon childcare plans or the need for before or after school care and resolved how to address any additional costs? If so, which parent has the responsibility for the costs of those plans? If the costs are shared, what percentage does each parent pay, and do they pay it to the provider or to the other parents? Is there a way to enforce this payment? Will there be new or increased tuition costs? Do you need to consider modifying your support arrangements?
If you are uncertain about any of the answers to these questions, you should review your current custody and/or support agreements/orders with your Family Law attorney to ensure that you have addressed your children’s best interests and needs for the coming school year.
By: Judy Hayman, Esq.