Clare Pilsworth from Tees Law looks at some ways for separated parents to share school commitments and holidays over the coming year.
With a new school year comes a new routine. While you may look forward to returning to the regular rhythm of the school week after the long summer holidays, it can come with its own problems. If you are divorced or separated, it will be time to decide who will take care of school runs, after-school care, activities and weekend commitments. And, while it is fresh in both your minds, it’s also a good time to plan the school holidays for the year ahead.
Ideally, you would sit down with your ex-partner at the start of term and come up with a plan to share the responsibility, ensuring that your child’s or children’s schooling isn’t compromised. This can be difficult if you find it hard to talk to each other. Even if you can communicate well, one partner may deem their work to be more important and therefore absent themselves from this routine. Similarly, the parent with whom the children are based may face the assumption that they will take responsibility for most of the school runs. These may both be reasonable and valid points, so it can take the assistance of an independent third party, such as a mediator, to help you see the bigger picture and encourage you to cooperate.
Family Mediation enables you to meet with your ex-partner in the presence of an impartial professional; it may be familiar to you if you are already formally separated. This form of structured discussion can also be valuable post-separation, when you have to make decisions about schooling and childcare that are essential to your children’s wellbeing. Mediation provides both you and your ex-partner with a neutral meeting space, with a professional who will listen to you both and help you reach decisions amicably.
You can use mediation to discuss holiday arrangements as well as the school routine. When discussing how your children split their time, both at weekends during term-time and during the school holidays, you both need to consider what is best for them. Time spent with each parent, holiday sharing, looking to your extended families for help and choosing activities can be formalised in this way.
With the regular elements of the routine shared out amicably, other elements of your child’s schooling will hopefully follow on. These include sharing the information which is sent out from the school regarding your child; indeed, the school will usually expect you to communicate with your ex-partner.
Specific Issue Order
You might encounter a specific issue which you cannot resolve through these methods (for example, one parent may have a new partner and want to move away, therefore impacting your choice of school, or your ex-partner might want to take an extended holiday with the children). In these situations, it is possible to make an application to court. The court will consider the facts, looking at the proposed childcare arrangement and whether it will cause the other parent to miss time spent with their child. The main concern will always be the welfare of the children; their best interests will determine the outcome.
However you come to an agreement, spending some time now planning out the year may help prevent the hostility that can arise from continually having to make short-term arrangements or a failure to communicate.