When you have children, summers can fly by. Before you know it, it is time to shop for school supplies and clothes as back-to-school time looms. This should be a time of excitement for the next steps in your kids’ lives, but when you are divorced, school might bring up areas of disagreement with your ex-spouse regarding the children.
Do not wait until school is about to start. Begin to negotiate resolution to those disagreements now. If issues are swept under the rug until school starts, stress levels are likely to rise, exposing the children to parental anxiety and conflict. As we have posted before, stress emanating from divorce is not healthy for kids.
If you are divorced, you have an agreement or court order that lays out the terms of matters related to custody and visitation (in Texas called conservatorship and possession). In addition, decision-making powers will be divided between the parents, as well.
Unfortunately, when those agreements are being negotiated (or when judges craft such orders) not every issue or situation may be anticipated. When there are school-aged children involved, divorcing parents should make every effort to be as detailed and thorough as possible in their marital settlement agreement about school issues to minimize future disagreement.
The kinds of issues that can arise may include:
- The parents disagree over which school a child should attend.
- One parent thinks a child should move in with him or her in order to change schools or school districts.
- The parents disagree about the course of study a child will begin in the fall; for example, should the child begin a language immersion program or take Advanced Placement classes?
- If a child receives special education classes, the parents may not agree on what should be included in the IEP (individualized education plan).
- The parents may disagree about whether the child should be assessed for special education services.
- The parents disagree about what activities the child will participate in or who will pay associated fees, which can be significant (think football uniform and equipment fees or musical instrument rental or purchase).
- And more
In addition, less significant matters can also come up like who buys school supplies or who gets to take the child to the bus stop on the first day of school. The Huffington Post has some creative suggestions to help with these kinds of disagreements.
Facing major disagreement, the parents may be able to negotiate an informal agreement to resolve issues related to school. If necessary, their family lawyers can assist with this process. If progress is not made, they can consider alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation to help them get to resolution. Mediation uses a neutral third person trained in conflict resolution and communication to help the ex-spouses work through the difficult issues. Mediation can be less stressful and cheaper in many situations.
If agreement is not achieved, the parents may need to request a modification to the divorce decree from the court. Modification is allowed in Texas to provisions of the order of divorce dealing with conservatorship of, possession of or access to a child if it would be in the child’s best interest and if the relevant circumstances have “materially and substantially changed,” and in a couple of other specific situations. Special requirements exist for a request within one year of divorce to modify who has the exclusive right to decide where the child’s primary residence will be.
Bottom line, it can be very important to seek the legal advice of a family lawyer as early as possible in a dispute related to school issues. The attorney can provide guidance and information about the options the parent has, as well as assist with negotiation if needed and representation in court if a formal modification must be sought.