Q. School is starting in a few weeks and because my ex and I just broke up we are moving and our son will be attending a different school. Do you have any tips to make changing schools easier on my son and on his mother and me?
A. Because the first rule of good ex-etiquette is put the children first, let’s start with your son. Put yourself in his shoes. (Ex-etiquette for Parents rule #7, “Use empathy when problem solving.”) His parents are breaking up. He has to move, give up his room and everything familiar, change schools and leave his friends. His whole life is turning upside down. Start by being patient. Understand that he may appear disorganized and distracted. He may even digress educationally. Do your best to help him stay organized by being organized yourself. Have a set schedule that he can follow so he knows what to expect. Try to be on time so he is not chastised at school for being late. These kinds of things will help him adjust more easily.
Next, schools have been facing the confusion brought on by divorce or separation for years. Kids often live in two houses and have more than one adult picking them up or dropping them off. A pet peeve of noncustodial parents is that they never know what is happening in their child’s classroom. And if their ex is uncooperative, it can be like playing twenty questions to get some information.
The best approach to staying in contact with a child’s school is to take the initiative to write a letter or email to both the teacher and the principal explaining your living situation.
The letter might say something like:
“My name is Joseph Smith. My son’s name is Steve Smith. Steven’s mother’s name is Joyce DeWitt. Joyce and I are divorced, but we share custody of Steve. Joyce has remarried. Her husband’s name is Bob DeWitt.I just wanted to clarify the players to make sure that we receive information about Steve’s schooling at both of his homes. (Offer the child’s schedule, include both addresses, email addresses, and contact phone numbers. Include the names and contact numbers of bonusparents if they help with child care, but do not list them as the biological parent. Very bad ex-etiquette.) Please make sure you have this information on record.”
Don’t take for granted that the school will remember this information from year to year. The teachers change, even principals change. Write this sort of letter each year to make sure your child’s new teacher has all the pertinent information.
It is important to note that “joint legal custody” allows both parents to sign legal documents or school permission slips for their children. Some schools accept the bonusparents’signature as an indicator the parent has been notified and permission has been granted. It is a good idea, however, to have documentation on file at the school that grants the bonusparent permission to sign papers or drop off and pick up the children.
Ex-Etiquette®, runs in countless newspapers and websites all over the world. It is written by Dr.Jann Blackstone, who specializes in child custody, divorce, and stepfamily mediation. Dr. Jann is the author of six books on divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting, specifically, Ex-Etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce and Separation, Ex-Etiquette for Weddings, and Ex-Etiquette for Holidays. Dr. Blackstone is also the founder of Bonus Families,501 c3 non-profit organization dedicated to peaceful coexistence between divorced or separated parents and their combined families.