It's important for co-parenting families to streamline communication and establish the kids' schedule ahead of a busy school year. Family law experts share practical tips to help parents start the school year on the same page.

By Rebecca Macatee
Photo illustration by Sarina Finkelstein; Getty Images (2)

The start of the new school year can be stressful for any child, and for kids in two-household families, back-to-school season can be a bit more complicated. Children whose parents are divorced, separated, or choosing to co-parent without living together have two home lives to juggle and when things get busy, like at the start of the school year, it's easy for scheduled activities or homework to get lost in the shuffle.

Here are five things family law experts recommend to help to make going back to school as stress-free as possible for kids in two-household families.

1. Coordinate on contacts and supplies 

For starters, both parents should be involved in filling out a child's emergency contact and health information forms. "In an ideal world, you fill out that paperwork together," says Myra Chack Fleischer, CLS-F, J.D., lead counsel and founder of Fleischer & Ravreby in San Diego. "It's about making sure that the two of you are on the same page as parents about what you want the school to know about you and your children."

Parents can also help simplify their children's lives by coordinating the logistics of getting books, school supplies, clothing, sports equipment, etc., from one house to the other, or deciding to have two sets of these items, one to live at each home. "What you want to do is have that planned in advance to make it easier on the children," Flesicher says.

2. Streamline communication

Texting and emailing have definitely made it easier for separate household parents to get in touch, but you don't want this communication to only be sporadic. Nicole Sodoma, J.D., says that ideally, there will be "some sort of weekly communication" to keep both parents up to date on the child's academics, health, and social milestones.

Apps like Talking Parents and Our Family Wizard are also a good way of maintaining regular communication. Parents can exchange information about their child's schedule, expenses, medications, and more in one safe, searchable spot.

3. Create a single email address for your child

Having a central email address that both parents can access is a great way to make sure everyone has access to information. "Put that email account on both parents' phones and then that's the email address that gets provided to the school, the coaches, the tutors or for any extracurricular activities," says Sodoma, the founder and managing principal of Sodoma Law, P.C., a family-focused and family-driven law firm in Charlotte, North Carolina. "Think about when the email comes out for sign-up for parent-teacher conferences or report cards, it all goes to the same place."

4. Establish a schedule

Creating a formal schedule is not only useful for keeping track of kids' activities, but it also gives children a sense of stability. "It helps the kids organize themselves as well as the parents," says Fleischer. "They know where they're supposed to be, at what time, and that they can rely on it." Ideally, this schedule will have some flexibility, but as Fleischer and Sodoma both note, parents' work schedules and other obligations can make this difficult.

5. When conflicts arise, put your child's interests first

"If there's something that's going on that's bothering you, and you need to resolve it, don't use your children," says Fleischer. "Go to the other parent, without the children present, and say, 'Can we talk about this?'"

If you can't resolve the issue civilly, it's in everyone's best interest to seek guidance from a qualified outside source like a mediator, parenting coordinator, or attorney. There's no one-size-fits-all model for co-parenting, but as Sodoma says, "getting the right advice from a family law professional can help reduce stress not only for both parents, but most importantly, for the children."

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