The kids aren’t the only ones scrambling to put the finishing touches on summer homework this time of year. While students check off reading lists and complete math packets, parents too are working on their “homework” – Back to School Paperwork including emergency contact forms; medication forms; sports’ physical forms and media releases. While it’s time-consuming and tedious, for most people the hardest part of the whole ordeal is writing small enough to fit the full address in a box the size of a Tic Tac.
For divorced parents though, certain parts of the Emergency Contact Form require extra consideration.
Who does the child live with?
This question, for many parents, is fairly straightforward but for divorced parents sharing physical custody, this one can be fraught with uncertainty and unintended consequences. Just how much of the custody arrangement should be revealed to the school? Some parents choose to release the parenting schedule to the school – for instance, every Sunday through Wednesday at Mom’s house and Thursday through Saturday at Dad’s. Just be careful to relay your preferred communication priorities to the school. What if your child gets sick on your ex-spouse’s day and he is away on business? Does the school have permission to alert the non-custodial parent?
Who can the child be released to?
Unless specifically outlined in a court order to the contrary, both parents are entitled access to their children. This includes impromptu lunches, early-release pickup for extracurricular activities, emergencies and illnesses.
“Attempting to block your ex from access to the kids by excluding him or her from the pickup list without a court order can lead to real trouble with the courts,” said White Lake Child Custody Attorney Kathryn Wayne Spindler. “If it comes before a judge, it looks bad. It looks like you are trying to alienate the child from another parent and it can honestly impact parenting time.”
She stressed, “The only circumstance where a parent can be barred from access to a child at school is if a court specifically forbids it. In which case, be prepared to discuss with a school administrator the specifics of the order and what action the school can and should take in the event the other parent does appear at school and try to take the child.”
Sometimes parents think they are sneaky in blocking the other parent’s access by putting him/her at the very bottom of the emergency call list. This is only damaging to the child.
“I had one client who, just as an emotional dig, put her local ex-spouse and nearby ex-in-laws at the bottom of a very long emergency call list that included her out-of-state relatives and incapacitated parents,” recalled Wayne-Spindler. “I had to wonder, what happens if the child has a fever or broken bone? Does she really want her child sitting in the principal’s office in pain while the secretary frantically makes her way through an unrealistic call list? Wouldn’t it be better for the child to be in the care of a loving grandparent – even if that grandparent is a detested ex-in-law?”
Alternate Emergency Contacts
On the back to school paperwork, both parents should be the primary contacts. Beyond that, parents need to agree on who else is added. This can be frustrating and contentious. Should Dad’s brand-new girlfriend have the right to take your child from school? What about Mom’s friend that had a DUI years ago? It’s tempting to limit the list to just a couple of trusted family members and avoid the fight. But you also don’t want such a short list that the school runs out of options and has to send your injured child back to class. An experienced Family Law Mediator like Wayne-Spindler can suggest options and compromises to help resolve these types of conflicts.
Release of school records
Each parent, unless barred by court order, is entitled to full access to the child’s academic and social school records. Both parents should be able to see report cards; disciplinary files; social work and therapist records; school communications and emails; and letters from teachers and administrators. Schools must accommodate requests for multiple copies of tests and homework assignments. Any flyers or newsletters should go to both parents. Make sure the school has records of both parents’ email addresses for blast-out communications.
Educational Accommodation Requests
With Joint Legal Custody all educational decisions for children must be agreed upon by both parents. Requesting or altering an IEP; changing schools; special teaching accommodations; and holding back or accelerating a grade are all examples of educational decisions that must be approved by both parents. Much like evaluating or treating a child’s mental illness, if both parents cannot agree it may require a court decision.
For more information about co-parents’ rights or for advice navigating educational decisions as a divorced parent, contact Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates at 248-676-1000. The office is conveniently located in Milford, Michigan so our attorneys are close to all five Southeastern Michigan counties we serve – Oakland, Wayne, Livingston, Genesee, and Washtenaw.
Written and Posted by Christine Donlon Long, Communications’ Specialist for Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates