It’s a new school year! It’s time to get back into those routines we have abandoned during the lazy (or not-so-lazy) days of summer and prepare for the new school year. Between the rush to get supplies, meet and greets, and extra-curricular requirements, parents under a joint-custody arrangement may forget their legal obligations to co-parent during this time, but doing so now may save you headaches later. Louisiana custody law requires that, if the parents have joint custody, that obligates them to “exchange information concerning the health, education, and welfare of the child and to confer with one another in exercising decision-making authority.” La R.S. 9:336. This may fall within three categories as the new school year arises:
If you are the parent filling out the forms, be sure to put the other parent on the school paperwork as a “Parent” or “guardian” if you have joint custody, not just an emergency contact. If you are in a joint custody legal arrangement, the other party is not an “emergency contact”, they are a “parent” and should be labeled as such. This goes for all other extra-curricular and sports forms as well. If you are not the parent filling out the form, you may want to double-check with the school to confirm that you are listed as a “parent” or “guardian”.
Further, if you have a custody judgment, ensure that the school has that judgment. There is usually a reminder on the school forms, but if there isn’t, it is the responsibility of both parents to ensure that the school has copies of that paperwork.
In a joint custody arrangement, each party is entitled to access records and information pertaining to their minor children and documentation shall not be denied to a parent solely because that parent is not the domiciliary parent. If the school or other entity is denying access to records to a non-domiciliary parent with joint custody, point them to La. R.S. 9:351.
If the other parent cannot be involved in the Meet-and-Greet or other introductory events, ensure that you are communicating that information with the other parent. Make sure the other parent knows the drop-off and pick-up times, the name of the teacher, and the classroom number, and scan and forward all handouts. This is your obligation under the law and if the other parent were involved in these activities, it would be their obligation. The same goes for sports and extra-curricular activities – communicate the schedule, the coach’s information, and any other information that is passed on to you by the coach/teacher/or group.
If you are the parent who cannot attend these events – ASK QUESTIONS! Who is the teacher? What is the schedule? How does the car line work?
A lot of information is now shared on websites/apps/texts/group messaging. If the school or extra-curricular activity participates in any of these mediums, make sure that the other parent has log-in information or is included in the texts/group messaging. While this doesn’t fully relieve you or your obligation to communicate, it does help lessen your burden and allows the other parent another outlet in which to receive information.
This is also a great time to discuss with the other parent what is working and what is not working if you and that parent are in a good place to do so. Do the drop-offs and pick-ups work? Do the times work? Does the exchange location work? Before enrolling the child in another year of the chosen extra-curricular activity, is the child still interested in that activity? Does the child wish to change to another activity? Having these discussions early on can help relieve a stressful situation later.
If you are the parent doing all of the above, then you are likely the parent purchasing the school supplies, school uniforms, and required extra-curricular items. It is important to retain your receipts for these things as some of them may fall under the “pro-rata share” provision of a child support judgment and some may not. In other words, the other parent may be obligated to share the cost of some of these items. Look to the judgment that addresses child support to determine if the other parent shares in the cost of these items, at what percentage, and what procedure to follow to ensure you get reimbursed. This is important because, under some court orders, you may waive the right to be reimbursed if a receipt or proof of purchase is not produced to the other party within a particular time period.
Co-parenting is daunting, especially when you have back-to-school madness on your plate. However, ensuring that you have filled out the paperwork correctly, retained your receipts, and communicated with the other parent will help with future headaches and help to build a better co-parenting relationship for years to come.