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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

School and the Single Parent

Everything can feel more complicated when you are a single parent. Schools are no exception. How do you find a school where your kids will thrive, you will fit in, and – for two-co-parent families  – the other parent will agree to.

For those without a co-parent, whether by choice, widowhood, or other reasons, skip ahead to the Solo Parent section.


For Two Household Families 

Legal Implications of School Decisions. For families where there are two parents that see the child, legal advice can be an important step. From my work in the single parent community, some general guidelines apply:

  • Mutual agreement is often beneficial to all parties, including the children. Given the cost and uncertainty of a trial, compromise is in everyone’s best interest. 

  • Courts will rarely impose the costs of private school on an unwilling parent. In most cases, offering to pay tuition will increase your chance of success.

  • Building a community locally will increase your chance of success. Courts prefer continuity for the child in their current school and/or community. 

Private Schools and Two Household Families. Some factors to consider when applying to private schools:

  • Private schools do not want to be in the middle of a dispute between parents. They will ask that you coordinate custody and decision-making, such that the school day and drop off/pick ups are smooth. 

  • Private schools will expect all parents with custodial rights to sign the annual contract. If you have full legal custody that includes school decisions, those documents might be required to avoid the second parent’s signature. 

  • For financial aid decisions, private schools will view all parents as financially responsible, regardless of custody, and therefore expect all parents to complete the financial aid application. Applications will have separate online accounts for each parent, under confidentiality so that one parent’s assets or income are not disclosed to the other parent. To avoid the second parent application, schools typically require attestation that the other parent is not living, not in touch with the child (i.e. no regular visitation), or does not exist (donor conceived, adopted, etc). 

Logistical Considerations. Ideas for improving your own peace of mind:

  • Drop off and pickups can be an ideal transition between two households and eliminate the awkwardness of a direct transfer between parents. However, be sure the other parent is clear on their custody schedule.

  • Choosing schools where siblings can attend together for more years will make your life easier, both for drop off/pickup and for vacation schedules. 

  • Find a friend to trade backup duty so that you are not dependent upon your co-parent. Everyone can use help from time to time, and trading help will be welcome.

  • Parent-teacher conferences can sometimes be scheduled separately for each household. This can avoid drama after a contentious split.

  • Choose extracurriculars near the school or your home. Sign up with a classmate of your child and offer to carpool. All parents can use support with logistics.


For Solo Parents

Financial and Logistical Considerations. The upside of solo parenting, there is no other parent to negotiate with, so you can focus on the best decision for your family. Some practical considerations:

  • You may need to document that you are the only legal parent, whether with a child’s birth certificate, parent’s death certificate, court order, or the most applicable document for your situation. This document will allow you to be the sole decision-maker for your child’s school and the sole party in financial aid calculations.

  • Logistical considerations may be a priority. Choosing schools where siblings can attend together for more years will make your life easier, both for drop off/pickup and for vacation schedules. Consider location and school hours carefully, knowing you are the only parent involved.

  • Find a backup parent to trade drop offs and pickups. The backup does not need to be single. Married couples can be a great source of backup, especially parents of your children’s friends. Offer to trade with them, whether to cover when a parent is traveling, or to watch the kids when they go out on a weekend date.

  • Choose extracurriculars near the school or your home. Sign up with a classmate of your child and offer to carpool. All parents can use support with logistics.


Role of a Consultant 

A consultant can help parents by reviewing your child’s needs and recommending potential schools. In addition, your consultant can help you apply to new schools, and then weigh the pros and cons of each school that accepts your student.

A consultant can also meet with single parents to provide information to help them prior to contentious meetings with their co-parent. I personally work for only one household in a two-household family so that my client is clear. 


Want more input on schools?

Vicky consults with families to help select, apply to, and communicate with public and private schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. Vicky maintains a principle of non-judgment. Hourly, VIP, and Season packages include a discussion to review school options, applications, essays, and key decisions. Vicky offers a limited number of packages each year to assure her availability. 

Vicky is a single parent whose own children have attended both public and private schools, and have received both accommodations and curriculum changes; her elder is in high school, and her younger in middle school. New clients can email to learn more about her services, or see her website to learn about her packages.


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