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School Choice, Who Makes It?

by | Jun 20, 2022

In most cases, the custodial parent remains in charge of making school-related decisions. But what if both parents want to make those decisions? And what if they can’t agree on which school is best for their kids? 

It can be a complex and contentious issue during a divorce, but it needs to be resolved for the children to have the best possible future. Read on to learn more about how custody arrangements can impact schooling decisions and what you can do to ensure your kids’ education is a top priority during your divorce proceedings.

What does the law say about school choice in a divorce?

The law generally gives the custodial parent the right to make decisions about their children’s education, including what school they will attend. It is typically in the child’s best interests to remain in the care of one parent, and that parent should have the authority to make decisions about their upbringing. 

However, there may be exceptions to this rule in cases where both parents have joint legal custody or if the child is old enough to make their own decisions about schooling (in some states, this age is 16).

Under Wisconsin’s joint custody statute, when parents “share joint legal custody of a child, each parent has an equal voice in making decisions about the child’s welfare, including decisions about education.” If you and your ex share joint legal custody of your children, you will need to reach a consensus on what school they should attend. 

Of course, this can be easier said than done, so it’s essential to know your rights and options before heading into divorce mediation or court.

Factors to consider

There are several factors you’ll need to consider when deciding on your children’s education, including:

  • Your child’s age: If your child is attending preschool or elementary school, they may not have a strong preference about which school they attend. However, if they are in middle or high school, they may have already formed attachments to their classmates and teachers and may not want to change schools.
  • After-school care and extracurricular activities: If your child attends an after-school program or participates in extracurricular activities, you’ll need to consider how a change in school might impact their ability to participate. In some cases, it may be worth staying in the same school district so your child can continue with their current activities.
  • The quality of each school: This is perhaps the most important factor to consider when deciding on your children’s education. You’ll need to research the schools in your area and decide which one will provide your children with the best possible education.
  • Travel time and expense: If you and your ex live in different cities or towns, you’ll need to decide which parent will be responsible for transporting the children to and from school each day. This can be a difficult decision, especially if one parent already works long hours or has a demanding job. You’ll also need to consider the cost of gas and other expenses associated with travel.
  • Your child’s special needs: If your child has special needs, you’ll need to find a school to accommodate their unique needs. For example, if your child has autism, you’ll need to find a school with an effective special education program.

How to plan for school

1. Listen to your child

If you have sole legal custody of your children, you will have the final say in all schooling decisions. However, even if you are the custodial parent, it is important to consider your child’s wishes and input on their education. After all, they are the ones who will be attending school every day, and they should have a say in where they go. 

As they grow older, their wants carry more weight, so it is important to start listening to them early on.

2. Talk to your ex-spouse

If you have joint legal custody, you will need to reach a consensus with your ex-spouse on all schooling decisions. This can be difficult, but try to communicate and come to an agreement that is in the best interests of your children. 

Explain your reasons for wanting your kids to attend a particular school, and listen to your ex’s point of view. It may be helpful to write down a list of pros and cons for each school you are considering to have a productive discussion about the best option for your children.

When all is said and done, the children should be the top priority when making decisions about their education, meaning that you should consider your child’s wishes and what is best for them academically.

3. Mediation

When friendly discussion and negotiation fail, you may need to consider mediation. This is a process whereby a neutral third party (the mediator) helps you and your ex-spouse reach an agreement on the issues at hand. The mediator will not make any decisions for you; rather, they will facilitate discussion and help you achieve an adequate resolution for both parties.

If you cannot reach an agreement on your own, mediation may be a good option for you and your family. It is crucial to find a mediator who is experienced in handling cases involving children and education so that they can help you make the best decisions for your kids.

4. Going to court

If mediation fails, you may need to take your case to court. The court will consider all of the factors involved in your case, including the wishes of the child, the opinions of both parents, and what is best for the kids. The court will then decide which school the child should attend. You’ll likely need to hire a lawyer knowledgeable in family law if your ex does the same, as the process can be complicated.

It might seem undesirable to have a stranger decide about your child’s education, but sometimes it is the best option when parents cannot agree on their own. If you need to go to court, be sure to hire an experienced lawyer who can help you make your case.

Refer to a Wisconsin family lawyer for more help

Making decisions about your child’s education can be difficult, especially if you are going through a divorce. Consult a Wisconsin family lawyer today if you need help making schooling decisions or have any other questions about your legal rights as a parent. The team of family lawyers at Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C. have experience handling these types of cases and can help you make the best decisions for your family.

Book a free consultation today to learn more about our offering.

Written by Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C.

The outstanding legal team of Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C. provides each client with top-quality legal representation. The firm is known throughout Wisconsin for its careful and thorough legal work.
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