Written By: John C. Belt
Scottsdale Child Custody Lawyer
When Single or Divorced Parents Disagree About Education Decisions
The first question to ask in a case involving the choice of schools for children is whether the parents share joint legal custody of the child or whether one of the parents has sole legal custody of the child. When a parent has sole legal custody, that parent is allowed to decide where the child attends school without input from the other parent. The parent who does not have sole legal custody can attempt to challenge the school choice, but great deference will generally be given to the custodial parent’s choice.
When the parents share joint legal custody, the parents must consult with each other on the school choice and reach an agreement. If they disagree and cannot resolve the dispute, then one of the parents will often seek the court’s involvement.
The court will apply a best interests standard in deciding what school a child should attend when his or her parents disagree. In other words, as in all family law cases concerning children, the judge must decide the case based on what he or she believes is in the best interest of the child.
Determining the Best Interests of the Child in School Choice Disputes
A recent Arizona case, Jordan v. Rea, set forth the following thirteen factors that judges should use in determining school placement when the parents disagree:
- The wishes of the child’s parent or parents as to school placement;
- The wishes of the child as to school placement;
- The interaction and interrelationship of the child with persons at the school who may significantly affect the child’s best interests;
- The child’s adjustment to any present school placement;
- The child’s educational needs;
- The qualifications of the teachers at each school;
- The curriculum used and method of teaching at each school;
- The child’s performance in each school;
- Whether the proposed or current school situation complies with state law;
- Whether one school is more suitable given the child’s medical condition or other special needs;
- Whether one school would allow the child to maintain ties to a nonresidential parent’s religious beliefs;
- Whether requiring the child to leave the child’s current school would aggravate the difficulties of the divorce; and
- Whether continuing in a particular school would be essential or beneficial to the child’s welfare.
A parent arguing a case involving a dispute over the choice of a school for his or her children should cite the Jordan case to the judge. The parent should then be prepared to discuss how each of the above factors applies to each of the school choices.