As the school year draws to a close and children and parents alike are thinking about time off, summer vacation and ice cream, preparing for the next school year is probably not at the top of anyone’s list. However, now may be the best time to prepare for your children’s school registration for the next year.
Deciding on your child’s school is an important decision. Most parents agree on where their child will go to school. However, for separated parents, agreeing on which school your child goes to can be challenging and a difficult conversation to have. The first step is to look at your Separation Agreement, Parenting Agreement or Court Order, if applicable. If you do not have one of these documents in place, you should seek the advice of a family law lawyer.
If a parent has sole custody or final decision making authority on educational issues, that parent alone can decide the school issue. That decision must be communicated to the other parent as he/she has the right to know. If parents share legal custody and important decisions affecting the children must be made jointly, then parents must agree for a decision to be made. If they do not, neither parent can make a unilateral decision.
It is wise to discuss the school issue with your separated spouse well in advance of a school registration deadline. If you delay the discussion to avoid an anticipated disagreement, the problem will be much bigger when there is no agreement and the school registration deadline looms or has passed.
If you and your separated spouse cannot agree on the school issue, review the Dispute Resolution section of your Separation Agreement. It likely sets out what steps you must take to resolve an outstanding issue. Most Agreements require parties to discuss the issue themselves, with or without the assistance of lawyers. If unsuccessful, mediation is often the next required step. With the assistance of a skilled mediator or other qualified professional, many parents can resolve the school issue and come to an agreement and decide what is in their child’s best interest. If parents still cannot agree, Court litigation or Arbitration (if agreed by the parents) will be required to resolve the issue.
Consider the benefits of a timely discussion and decision on the school issue. The high cost of litigation could otherwise be put towards your child’s education costs. Furthermore, because of delays in the Court system and the time it takes to have your matter heard in Court, most often there is not enough time to have a Judge hear the matter before the school registration deadline. Oftentimes parents lose sight of the emotional harm done to children when they see parents argue. Moreover, Court is public and your dispute is available for all to see and hear.
If you and your spouse do not see eye to eye on which school your child should attend, discuss the issue early and in a child focused manner. If necessary, seek assistance from a skilled neutral professional, like a mediator, who will help you make the decision that is in your child’s best interest.