Back to School: How custody arrangements affect your choice of school for your children

As summer begins to wind down, most parents are beginning the process of preparing their children for the start of school and dealing with all of the corresponding logistics. For separated/divorced parents, however, the process may reach an entirely different level of complexity.

For intact families whose children attend public school, the decision as to which school the children will attend has been made for the parents already. For separated/divorced parents who reside in separate households, things may not be so clear, if the parents reside in different school districts. Typically, the children will attend the school that is assigned to the primary custodial parent’s residence. However, if the partial custodial parent’s residence is in a far better school district that provides educational advantages, thereby alleviating the need for a potential transition to private or parochial school, that parent can petition the court to enter an order directing the children to attend school in his or her school district instead. Similarly, if the primary custodial parent just moved out of the children’s historical school district, but the partial custodial parent stayed in that district, the court, upon request, may order that the children continue to attend their old schools.

How about situations where the parents share custody equally? In that case, the children have the option to attend school in either district. Preference typically is given to maintaining the status quo for the children and keeping them in the schools to which they have grown accustomed. However, if the children were not doing well in school, or if the school is not providing adequate educational opportunities, then it may make sense to break from the status quo. Moreover, if both parents moved out of the old school district, then breaking the status quo is inevitable, and the parents will have to decide where to send their children going forward. If the parents cannot agree, it is crucial to seek court intervention far enough in advance to prevent problems with enrollment come school time.

Children already have enough to handle when dealing with the breakup of their family. For this reason, it is crucial to maintain stability and ease transitions wherever possible. There is nothing worse than moving children in and out of schools unnecessarily. If you think you may be running into such an issue, start planning in advance and learn about your options. Your children will appreciate it.