In the midst of summer barbeques, camping trips, and vacations, in July, most people are trying their best to avoid thinking about school starting come the fall. However, you and your co-parent should be discussing the issue now, to avoid a common pitfall of divorced or separated couples: disagreements about where your children should attend school in the fall. This is particularly important if the parents live in different school districts.
Unless one parent has sole decision-making regarding education decisions, you and your child’s other parent will need to make a decision jointly about where the child attends school in the fall. When parties do not have orders on the allocation of parental responsibilities, most schools will not allow a child to be enrolled by one parent alone.
If you do have orders from the court, and you and your co-parent have joint decision-making responsibility, unilaterally enrolling your child in a school is a violation of the court order. Where the child attends school is a major decision requiring both parents to agree if joint decision-making concerning education decisions was ordered by the court, either by agreement or through a contested hearing.
Even if you were permitted sole decision-making responsibility regarding the children’s education, most courts look favorably upon a parent who consults the other parent about school choice. However, if you cannot agree with your co-parent regarding which school your child should attend, if you have sole decision-making regarding education-related decisions, you can enroll your child in the school that you believe is the best fit for them.
Especially in cases of high conflict custody situations, it may be best to begin the discussion through a well thought out e-mail, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of different school options. That way, both parents can think through this decision, and the conversation is documented. It may also be advantageous to have a family law attorney involved in these discussions, so that you avoid doing anything that might cause a court to look unfavorably on any actions that you may have taken. Likewise, if there is an attorney on either or both sides of a high conflict situation, they can act as the buffer between you and the other party and can help you navigate the court system, should court intervention become necessary.
But what happens if the parents have joint decision making and cannot come to a consensus on where the child should go to school? If the parents cannot agree on the best school for the child to attend, either the court or a decision-maker will need to be involved. If the allocation of parental responsibilities has not yet been addressed, one parent will need to file a Petition for Allocation of Parental Responsibilities.
If you have a court order that requires a consensus on education-related decisions and you are not able to come reach an agreement, one party will need to file a Motion requesting the Court address the issue. Whether you need to file a Petition to get the allocation of parental responsibilities proceeding started or a Motion solely on the decision on where the child will attend school, both proceedings can take quite a bit of time.
Therefore, if you are struggling to resolve where your child should attend school this fall, it is important to address the situation now and to seek court intervention or resolution by a decision-maker quickly.
There are a number of ways that school choice can be addressed by the Court. How the issue should be addressed depends on a number of factual and legal issues. To best understand the courses of action you may take regarding school choice, it is important to discuss the issue with a seasoned family law attorney. If you and your spouse cannot agree on school choice, contact our attorney’s at Gebhardt, Emerson, & Moodie Family Law today.
Authored by: Erika Gebhardt, Esq.