Parental Disputes Over School Choice in Joint Custody

best interest of the child factors May 11, 2017

In joint custody school choice usually comes up when two parents can't agree on where a child is going to go to school. When I started doing family law over two decades ago, the subject of school choice rarely came up. But this is something that comes up more and more in my practice as of late.

It really comes up when one parent wants the child to go to a private school, for example, that costs money and the other parent wants the child to go to a public school because he or she can't afford the cost of the private school.

In litigating these types of cases, this is the type of information that I have my client research and that I present to the judge. First and foremost I want to know what the different ratings are for each of the schools that are options. I have my client go online and do research. It's pretty easy to do that. You can get the ratings, student teacher ratio and download and print out any other resources that are available. Then I usually use those print outs as exhibits in my custody trials.

I also look at and bring to the court's attention what the distance is between the school and each parent's home. I do this for each of the schools. As I've mentioned in some of my other videos, one of the factors that a court could look at in deciding what is in the best interest of the child or children is how long will the child be in the car commuting from home to school during each parent's time.

Judges are not huge fans of children having to be in the car for long periods of time commuting. A judge would prefer the child spending quality time with the parent or having downtime or time to do homework. And not traveling in the car for 1 hour or 2 hours every day. So geographical distance in my opinion is a big part of a school choice issue.

If a parent is seeking to change a child's school from the current school, obviously it's really important the reasons why that change is being requested. Is it because there have been some issues with the school. Is the child having some issues? Is it because the parent is moving? What are the reasons? You have to bring those reasons before the court and you it should be grounded in good faith. So, just because a parent felt like moving that is not necessarily a good reason.

Judges don't take moving a child from a school very lightly. It's kind of an upheaval because the child has been going to that school. As far as the cost of the school it may differ in different jurisdictions. If there is a cost to the school, in Arizona that cost gets figured into the child support calculations.

I've had judges sometimes tell parents, if you want to send this child to a private school then you are going to pay for it because the cost is a lot and the other parent just doesn't have the funds or the resources to pay for it. I've had other judges who look at the totality of the circumstances and decides that the private school is the best choice for the child. So the judge sends the child to that private school and forces both parents to pay for that.

As with everything in family court and court in general. The judge has to look at a lot of considerations. So any and all evidence that you can gather as far as each of the schools and present to the court will be helpful. Your opinion or a professional's opinion on how a change in school might affect the child would be helpful.

The teacher's opinion on how a change in school might be helpful. If the child is performing poorly in school and the reasons why that might be happening would be helpful.

Those are just some ideas and food for thought. I'm sure you can come up with a lot more information on your own that you could present to the judge. Dig deep and gather any information you can on why your child should change schools.


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