In a case when the parties are unable to determine what school their child or children will go to, either post-divorce or after a Court has issued an Order determining custody of the minor child/ren, and the parties are unable to resolve the issue between one another, either through direct communication or through alternative dispute resolution (e.g. mediation), then the decision may need to be dealt with through Court. If this is the case, a Judicial Officer would make the determination of what school the child or children would attend. In the event one party was awarded sole legal custody by the Court, either by stipulation or litigation, that party would have sole authority to decide where the child/ren would attend school. However, most parents share joint legal custody in the State of Minnesota and, as such, should have equal rights to determine the choice of school for the child/ren. Minn. Stat. 518.003, subd. 3(a) defines joint legal custody as “the right to determine the child’s upbringing, including education, health care, and religious training.” As a choice of school is typically considered a major educational issue, this falls squarely under the definition of joint legal custody. In my experience, oftentimes the major factors that go into deciding what school is best for the minor child, if the parents cannot make such a decision, include the following:
- Performance of the school: There are several websites that parties can look-up to compare schools with one another. One in particular is schooldigger.com. Courts often like to consider how well the schools are performing academically, what subject areas schools excel in, teacher to student ratios, and other strengths/weaknesses of the school. Also Courts specifically consider how those strengths/weaknesses would apply to the specific child/ren in the particular case;
- Transportation: In particular, the length of time it would take a child to get to and from school, whether busing is available or not available are factors to consider;
- The parent with physical custody: Often times the parent with physical custody or primary residence is a major factor in where the child/ren attends school. In large part because this may be where the child/ren spend the majority of their time during the week, where they do their homework, where their extra-curricular activities occur, etc.;
- Historically where the child/ren has attended school: Clearly, if a child has attended school and has done very well in that school, has friends, is involved in the school, etc. it may be difficult for a judicial officer to change the child/ren’s school if one parent is requesting such a change.
- Academic performance of the child: The judicial officer will consider if the child struggling significantly in the school and if the other parent has a plan of action relative to assisting the child with tutoring, smaller class sizes, better academic programming, etc. if such a plan is proposed, the judicial officer may seriously consider this and may determine that a change of school is in the child’s best interest.
The decision as to what school a child should go to is not necessarily an easy one; however, the judicial officers will consider the best interests of the minor child/ren involved in determining what is best for that child or children. That being said, typically just because one parent wants the child to attend the school, he/she proposes, is not enough in and of itself for a judicial officer to choose that particular school. Many factors play into the determination of what school a child/ren should go to. If this is an issue you are dealing with, you may want to consider an attorney to assist you with advocating for the school you propose. Request a free initial consultation with one of our Minnesota Family Law Attorneys today.