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Tackling the 'back to school blues' as a separated family 

As summer winds down, the roads are back at maximum capacity with many families returning to the daily school and work routine. Whether you’ve got little ones heading to school for the first time, or you are now a seasoned lunch-box packer, the back to school period can be a time of high anxiety for both kids and parents of separated families, particularly when family law issues come in to play.

Our Family and Relationships Law Department has put together some helpful tips for separated families about how to deal with the increased stress of the back to school period and how to make the transition as seamless as possible:

What does ‘shared responsibility’ mean?

Often in family law, we like to talk about ‘parental responsibility’. This refers to the responsibility and authority that parents have in relation to their children to make both day to day and long-term decisions. The day to day decisions include things such as what the kids eat, what their bed time will be and how long they will spend doing homework after school. In the longer-term this list includes bigger things such as what school the kids will attend, any major medical decisions and whether or not the kids will practice a religion.

For a lot of families that are separated, there may not be any family court orders in place. If this is the case, the law considers that both parents will have shared parental responsibility for the kids and are therefore entitled to make decisions about their kids lives both day to day and long term (s61C Family Law Act).

In circumstances where there are court orders in place, most will explicitly state what the situation is in terms of decision making about the kids and it will usually be the case that the parents have equal shared responsibility.

Communicating about school

What this means in terms of the kids schooling is that both parents are entitled to correspondence and information from the school, including access to academic reports, newsletters, school photos and the opportunity to attend parent-teacher interviews. It is very important that parents keep the school well informed of what the family situation so that the school can help to facilitate the above.

As well as communicating with the school, it is equally important that communication lines are kept open with your co-parent, so long as you feel safe doing so.

Communicating with your co-parent about any days of school the kids will miss due to illness or otherwise, or any days the children will be late are just a few examples of the sorts of things you should be keeping your co-parent informed of. This will help to avoid any unnecessary conflict between co-parents.

Is family violence an issue?

Another scenario that is important to consider is when family violence is involved. It is an unfortunate reality of family law that often there are issues of family violence attached. If you have a Family Violence Intervention Order in place that names the children as protected persons, it is critical that the school are made aware of this and provided with a copy of the Order.

Making the school aware of these Orders means that they are best equipped to respond quickly and appropriately if they perceive the children to be in any immediate harm, or, if they believe that the Respondent has breached the Order.

If the Order prohibits the respondent from coming within a certain distance of the children, it is helpful to provide the school with a photograph of the respondent so that if they were to attend the school, the school would be able to quickly recognise and manage the situation.

Taking these few steps can go a long way to minimise the stress and anxiety this period can bring. Our Family and Relationship Law team is here to help. Please contact us on 03 8792 7542 for a free initial consultation.

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