As the new school year approaches, my office is often flooded with parents desperately trying to determine where they child will attend school now that the client is divorced. Usually the questions include: who decides what school the kids go to, what if we can’t agree on the school, what if my school is the better school? These questions, and others, often cost thousands of dollars to litigate and due to timing issues may create confusion and frustration not only for the parties but for their children as well. We offer the following tips when considering which school your children will attend after a divorce:
1. Can you reach an agreement? If you and your ex can reach an agreement on the school your children will attend, in most cases, the Court will not interfere with this decision. If you and your ex have joint legal custody, you are likely required to agree on the school, and if you cannot agree, you can present your case to the judge and have the judge decide where your children will attend school. In situations where one parent has sole legal custody, he or she can make decisions about school issues without consulting the other parent.
2. What type of physical custody arrangement do you have with your ex? Generally, where a child will attend school is determined by where the primary custodial parent lives. In cases where the parents have joint physical custody, again, if you and your ex cannot agree on the school, the judge will decide.
3. Which school is the better school? If you and your ex have joint physical and joint legal custody and you cannot agree on which school your child will attend, consider whose school zone offers the better school. There are many websites that offer an analysis of Clark County schools including: greatschools.org, schooldigger.com, and ccsd.net. If you plan to go to court over which school your child will attend, you should be prepared to present documents from each of the aforementioned websites to show the judge how your school compares to the school your ex is zoned for.
4. Where has your child previously attended school? Another consideration for the Court will be to examine where your child previously attended school. If your child has attended the same school in the same zone for 4 years and now you want your child to attend a different school, you will need to be prepared to explain to the judge why the suggested change in school is best for your child.
5. Does your school offer something your ex’s school does not? If your school offers extra-curricular programs that your ex’s school does not, you should be prepared to present this evidence to the judge. If your child is a gifted violinist and your school offers a nationally recognized orchestra program and your ex’s school does not, you should be prepared to show this to the judge. Likewise, if your school has opportunities in math and your child excels in math while your ex’s school does not have a strong math program, again, be prepared to present this to the judge. Newspaper clippings, posts from the school website and letters from teachers or the school principal may be help.
6. Does putting the child in your school lessen the time the child will spend with third parties? If placing the child in your school means your child can be driven to school every day, regardless of the custodial schedule, the Court will want to know this information. If placing the child at your school means the child will not need to attend Safe Key or ride the bus, be prepared to present this information to the judge. While this factor is not determinative in where your child will attend school, it will be helpful for the judge to know that you can pick up your child from school every day if the child attends in your zone.
7. Can we pick a school in the middle? In most cases, if you and your ex live far away from each other, the judge may consider signing an order that allows you to place your child in a school that neither of you are zoned for. While this is great in family court, keep in mind that the school district may not necessarily abide by this order. If you are considering a school that is outside of both parties’ school zones, go to the school and talk to the principal. Be sure that the school has room for your children and that the school will abide by the Court order if a judge agrees to allow the child to be placed in a school in neither parties’ school zone.
8. What about private school? In cases involving private school, generally, the Court will require that the party requesting private school pay the cost of the schooling if the parties cannot agree that the child will attend private school. In addition, some of the factors referenced above will also be considered such as: has your child previously attended the private school, does the private school offer something the public school does not, how does the private school compare to the public school, what will be the impact on the child spending time with third parties if the child attends private school versus public school.
9. What about a magnet school? If you prefer to send your child to a magnet school over your ex’s objections, you will need to be prepared to explain why the magnet school is in your child’s best interests. Again, be prepared to address whether your child previously attended this school, how you and your ex will transport the child to school and whether the magnet program offers something that a regular public school does not offer for your child. Also, be sure that your child has been accepted to the magnet school before getting the Court involved in your case. It is a very time consuming and expensive proposition to fight to place your child in a school only to find out that your child has not been accepted to the program.
10. What if the child goes to school where my ex is and I cant get my child there every day? Many times after a divorce, parties move far away from each other and the day-to-day requirements of child rearing can become more complicated. It is not unusual that a parent moves to another side of town or even 20-30 minutes away making transporting the child to school more difficult. In cases like this, you may want to talk to your ex about modifying the visitation schedule to ensure that your children make it to school on time every school day. It is better to make accommodations during the school year that ensure your child’s attendance at school rather than to face a custody modification motion because you were unable to take the child to school and were unwilling to change the custody schedule.
In any case where there is an issue concerning schooling, consulting with a qualified attorney experienced in these matters can help. If you have questions about where your child will attend school, call us. We can help. You can reach us by phone at (702) 433-2889 or fill out our on-line form for more information.