Why Back to School Time is so Stressful For Separated Families & What You Can Do to Cope:

September can be a stressful time for families, but even more so for separated or divorced ones.

Parenting Time Changes

For children who have two homes, there can be dramatic changes in their schedule as they return to a school focused calendar.  In some cases, children may have spent the summer vacation in a different city, or province, with their non-custodial parent.  Even if parents live in the same city, it is common for children to have a split summer with each parent.  The start of school triggers a return to regular routines, regular bed times, and packed lunches.  These aspects of routine can all be triggers for parents who have different parenting styles.  For example, one parent may view the other parent’s food choices for a packed lunch to be unhealthy, or be more strict about the child’s bed time.

Parenting Exchanges

It is common for separated families to use the neutral territory of school, for pick up or drop off of children for parenting exchanges.  For example, a parent who has weekend time with their children will often pick up the children from school on a Friday afternoon, and return them to school on a Monday morning.  Similar arrangements can be made for a week on week off parenting regime.

While there are many benefits to this arrangements, there can be pitfalls if parents do not have a clear understanding on what to do when there is a long weekend, or if the child’s school has a Pro-D day.

Childrens’ Extracurricular Activities

When children choose to join in after-school clubs and sports teams, there can be extra costs for the parents as well as challenges for the parenting schedule of separated families.  These costs are sometimes covered under regular child support payments, and sometimes count as “extraordinary expenses“.  When these costs are extraordinary expenses, parents usually split the cost, or pay a proportional amount of money based on their income.

Differences in Opinion About School Choice

The choice about where a child will attend school is tied both to the values of the parents, and convenience of the school’s location.  Will the child attend the local public school, a private or religious based school, french-immersion, or be home schooled?

School location can be a very difficult issue for separated families who live in geographically different areas.  There are regularly cases before BC Supreme Court about where the child will attend school in the lower mainland.  Such was the case of DRK v. SGG (Sept 14, 2017), where the mother moved to another suburb of Vancouver and wanted her 7 year old son to attend a school closer to her home.

What You Can Do to Cope

  • Recognize that change is inevitable
  • Focus on quality, not quantity of parenting time
  • Consider the child’s needs/views/input
  • Plan ahead (plan for the next Pro-D day in advance, for example)
  • Seek support (parenting classes, counselling, social support)
  • Communicate with the other parent in a constructive, positive way
  • Arrange to get information directly from the child’s school (via their website or teacher)
  • Use an information and calendar sharing App such as:  OurFamilyWizard or 2houses

Jayne Embree, M.A.

Jayne holds a Masters Degree in Psychology and is a highly experienced Divorce Coach and Child Specialist.  She is currently the Office Manager of Butterfield Law.