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Back to School: Your Divorce or Custody Case

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August and September are upon us. That means the time of year when the children start, or go back, to school. We see various issues that arise regarding school. These issues can be educational, financial, or related to aspects of a visitation or custody battle. Below are some of the topics that our experienced family law attorneys deal with:

1. School information: In many divorce or custody situations, one parent is the primary custodian for both custody and school enrollment purposes. As such, the other parent may be seen as a secondary parent in the eyes of the school. The custodial parent should always remember to list the non-custodial parent as the secondary contact on any registration or information form. Denver family law lawyers jump at the chance to show a party is not interested in co-parenting. A common bit of information those attorneys might use are school contact forms. We see parties add new boyfriends or girlfriends, grandparents, the milk man, or just about anyone besides the other parent. When knee deep in a custody or visitaiton battle, you do not want the other attorney using your failure to list the other parent against you as evidence of your inability to find value with that parent. The custodial parent should also get into the habit of mailing or e-mailing report cards, important notices, calendar and event information, field trip notices, etc. to the non-custodial parent. Both parents should be informed, and you don’t want to be accused of keeping the other parent in the dark on these issues.

For the non-custodial parent, you may have orders in place regarding the custodial parent providing you with school information. This is great, but you should not rely on such alone. As a custody lawyer, I see many instances in which the non-custodial parent is not kept informed about school issues, or in which he or she finds out about a concert or field trip the day before. You, as the non-custodial parent, still have power and rights. Take it upon yourself to proactively make sure you are abreast of school issues, regarless of the other parent. Make sure the office has on record that you, too, are to be informed of any signficant academic, activity, or disciplinary issues. Be proactive with the teachers. Throughout the school year, there will be grade reports, notices of activities, information on projects, and other various informative documents sent home by the teacher. At the beginning of the year, ask the teacher to specifically make sure you are provided a duplicate of all things sent to the other parents home. Sometimes these notices are sent with the children. Sometimes children lose them or the other parent forgets to share. You could get into the habit of e-mailing the teacher each week as a back up to see what, if anything, of importance came home. You should also, on your own, make sure you keep abreast of parent teacher conferences. In some cases, the parties are so mad at each other they cannot even attend a parent-teacher conference together in a civil manner. Schools are aware of this. Most teachers will accommodate you with a second conference. Again, you have the power to be on top of your child’s education without having to rely on your ex. Use it.

2. Activities: Throughout the school year, there will be concerts, plays, sporting events, back to school nights, conferences, and more. One key to your child’s happiness is seeing mom and dad get along, even after the divorce or custody battle is done. Unfortunately, our divorce attorneys hear of instances in which parties verbally argue, or worse, at some of these events. Your child is watching and feeling. He or she knows. He or she feels the tension. He or she is embarassed and heartbroken when drama arises at school events. DON’T DO IT, PERIOD. If you, or your ex cannot control yourselves, stay away from each other. Your child will be OK with finding a way to acknowledge each of you. Your child will look for both of you. Keep the fight out of it and remember the event is about your child. In some cases, our attorneys have heard tell of former couples being able to sit together in a friendly manner for the kids. Strive to be this former couple. If that’s just not possible, make sure you are on your best behavior and to avoid any conflict. Your child, and the school, will be thankful.

3. Financial: I have been raising children since the mid-1980’s. Over the years, I have seen the fees required by public schools get bigger and bigger. Parents are now forced to pay for registration fees, book fees, activity fees, bus fees, required supplies, and just about any other fee you can imagine. Though some Denver area courts might find that C.R.S. 14-10-115, the Colorado child support statute, requires the splitting of these fees, others do not. C.R.S. 14-10-115 does not expressly address these types of fees. Thus, one could argue that the child support recipient is solely responsible for such. This is not necessarily fair. Often times, parties will agree to the splitting of these fees, whether proportionately to income or equally. If you have been ordered to split these fees, or have agreed to do so, do it. You don’t want litigation costs and attorney fees to arise over a couple of hundred dollars of fees arising here or there. Certainly elective acitivies, like chess club or the track team, are different. If you have mutually agreed to such, you are on the hook. If you have not, the other parent will bear the cost should he or she elect to unilaterally enroll the child. Keep in mind, band, orchestra, and theater are sometimes classes, with extra financial components. If your child is in one of these classes, it is because he or she wants to be. Pay your part, if you are financially able.

Our divorce lawyers in Denver sometimes see a school related issue that might shock the reader: battles over payment of school lunches. Things can be so acrimonious that parties cannot even agree on how to deal with school lunches. Many schools have accounts set up, which can be replenished. Who suffers when there are not funds in the account? Your child. Both parents should try to set up a plan or mechanism for being on the same page with payment of school lunches. You can arrive at agreements such as taking weekly turns replenishing the account. If you know your child will be buying lunch on some days when he or she leaves from your home, make sure there are funds in the account ahead of time. Whether the law actually says so or not, when your child leaves your home to go to school, it is your job to make sure he or she has lunch. If you send him or her to school with a sack lunch, this is not an issue. If not, make sure the money is there. Your parenting duties do not end when your child gets on the bus and you will not always be able to rely on the word of your ex.

I could write a novel about all the issues we see regarding kids, custody, and school in Denver family law cases. Maybe someday I will.