Should Custody and Support Orders Change with a New School Year?
With September and the start of another school year fast approaching, separated and divorced parents face some challenges that intact families may not. If you are newly separated, you may not yet have custody and support orders in place. Even if life without these orders has worked thus far, the start of a new school year may be a good time to consider obtaining a formal court order. If you already have these orders in place, are they still appropriate or with the new school year do you need a new order?
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 children. 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 controlled by the agreement or Order that determines where the children physically reside during the 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, care for the child ill, and whether or not a parent may pick up the child from school outside of their custodial time. Additionally, now that your children are another year older, what worked well in the past may no longer be the best arrangement. A written agreement or Court Order for Custody is essential to avoid parental conflict and may be appropriate to provide to the school for implementation.
Even when parents are able to work together for the best interest of their children without a custody order, the schools and/or daycares that children attend often require that the parents provide a written order in case a dispute does ever arise.
Child Support is the obligation of one party to the other custodian of the children for financial support of the children. 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 a need to modify a child support agreement or Order. If the physical custody schedule has changed due to a new school, that maybe a reason to modify child support. Another reason may be that either party’s income may have changed since the order was last visited. Additionally, if you have a support order entered before 2022, it likely does not include extracurricular activities. If you have expenses related to your child’s extracurricular activities that are not being shared by your co-parent, it may be time to modify your support order to include those activities.
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? Is there a plan for next year’s summer camp? 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 parent? 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 or contact your attorney today to have agreements/orders established in writing.
If you, or someone you know, may be affected by the information in this legal alert, please contact Abigail Bukowski at Eastburn and Gray. To learn more about Eastburn and Gray and our Family Law practice group, please visit the firm’s website, www.eastburngray.com.