Dear Carolyn,

I share custody of our son with my ex-husband. Another school year is about to begin. I dread the issues with homework. As my son gets older and homework gets more important, there has to be something we can do as parents to make sure it is consistently done and turned in. My ex is a little more concerned with fun at his house than homework, although he is a pretty good father. What are homework guidelines for sharing custody every other week during the school year?


Carolyn Answers …

The homework routine is important. Note, I used the word routine.

The first basic problem boils down to your son already has two routines – one at mom’s house and one at dad’s house. I suggest a discussion with your ex regarding homework so that each of you have a similar routine.

There are four topics you should discuss.

One, where is homework done? Your child needs a general workspace that is associated with homework. Your child needs the special homework space at dad’s house and at mom’s house. This could be a desk or the quiet end of a kitchen counter, but consistency is important. The location needs to be associated with thinking and learning. The space needs to be quiet and distraction fee.

Two, the homework space needs to be stocked with school supplies, such as pencils, pens, erasers, colored pencils, paper, construction paper, glue, crayons and any other age appropriate and teacher prescribed supplies.

Three, there needs to be a routine. Most typically, the routine may be to finish homework before play. Or maybe your child would do better with a snack, half hour of outside play and then homework. Whatever the routine, however, it would be nice if you and your ex can utilize a similar routine and consistency from household to household.

Four, communication with you ex and the teacher on what the assignments are is also critical. Some teachers utilize websites to post homework. Others use homework journals. Understand the methods of all of your child’s teachers. Meet with them with your ex and discuss homework so everyone is on the same page.

Now, a word on longer term projects. These are projects your child is given several weeks to complete. The project spans time at Mom’s house and time at Dad’s house. Most projects can be broken done into component parts. You might sit down with you child’s teacher at the beginning of a project and discuss the components. Ideally, the components could be written as a “to do” list so that components could be assigned to things to be done at Mom’s house and things to be done at Dad’s house. This certainly beats all of the project being completed on the Sunday before the Monday the project is due. Plus, it is a chance to teach your child planning and organizational skills.



Dear Carolyn,

I share joint legal custody of our daughter and I have most of the physical custody in the school year. Our daughter is 13 and a wild child. My ex allowed his mother (child’s grandmother) to take her for a haircut and a small tattoo she wanted. My ex well knew I didn’t want her to have the haircut and the tattoo. What do I do?


Carolyn Answers …

This question regarding the tattoo surprises me because it is illegal in North Carolina to tattoo a person under age 18. No permission can legally be given. NC General Statutes Section 15-400 states that it is unlawful for any person to tattoo the arm, limb or any part of the body of any other person under the age of 18. This is a Class 2 misdemeanor. Virginia has a bit of a different take on the issue of tattooing and allows tattooing or body piercing of a minor with parent consent or medical supervision. I would definitely investigate who did the tattoo and where this happened as other minors could also be at risk.

Haircuts are a recurrent problem in child custody, and I find very few judges address which parent has the authority to decide the hairstyle for a child. At 13, a child should be given some input into hair decisions, although over the years, hair has so many connotations such as rebellion or identification with a group.   There are cultural and social implications associated with hairstyle and cut. Hair can even have gender, religious and marital status implication. Social “class” can be measured by hairstyles.

The problem, of course, with the haircut is that once it is done, there is not any easy fix. The best practical advice is to have your daughter establish a relationship with a hairstylist she likes and get some practical advice. Give your daughter some latitude to interview stylists. Make this several fun events: lunch with Mom and interview at least three stylists on three Saturdays. Invite Dad to go for the stylist interviews as well. Educate your daughter and have the stylist educate your daughter. Then, when grandma wants something different, your daughter can say: “I use Diane at XYZ salon, and let’s go there for the advice.”


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Note that answers are intended to provide general legal information and are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn.