When separated or divorced parents need to decide where their child will attend school in the upcoming year, it can quickly turn into a legal dispute. If your child finished this school year without an agreement as to where he or she will attend school next year, the time to act is now.
Here are some DOs and DON’Ts to keep in mind:
DO consult your existing custody Order or Agreement to review your legal custody arrangement. “Legal custody” encompasses important decisions relating to the welfare and well-being of your minor child, including decisions about where the child goes to school. Parents with “joint” legal custody share the authority on school decisions. The parents must discuss the options and try to reach a consensus. A parent with “sole” legal custody or “tie-breaking authority” has the authority to make the decision without the consent of the other parent.
DON’T circumvent the terms of the Agreement. If your Agreement requires you to attend mediation to resolve the issue prior to filing suit, you need to meet that requirement. If you do not, the other parent could try to dismiss your case.
DO contact an experienced family law attorney immediately if you cannot reach an agreement, or you are unhappy with the decision the other parent made on the child’s behalf. You need to know your rights and options, and understand the strengths and weaknesses of your case.
DON’T expect an immediate resolution of your issue. Due to the influx of school disputes over the summer months, some jurisdictions have specially assigned Judges to hear these cases in mid to late August. But, other jurisdictions treat these cases as they would any other request for expedited relief. You may not have a trial until right before school starts. In some instances, the trial could be held after school is in session.
DO gather as much information as you can to support your choice of school. Helpful information may include the school’s promotional materials, statistics, transportation options, class offerings, and tuition schedule. For public schools, you need to research the district’s residency requirements. If there is a trial, you will need to clearly articulate to the Court the reasons why your school choice is preferable.
DON’T forget your child’s feelings. It can be very upsetting for a child to not know where they are going to school in the fall until right before school starts. Litigation could also affect your child’s ability to register for classes, participate in school-sponsored activities or orientations scheduled during the summer, or complete summer assignments.
DO recognize that the Court’s job is to act in your child’s best interests. The Judge will hear from both parents, and perhaps even from an advocate for the child, and decide which parent should make the final decision.
In a perfect world, both parents would set aside their differences and work together to determine what is best for their child. But, when that is not possible, parents need to take action now to ensure a timely and favorable resolution for their child.
If you have family law questions, please contact us.
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