How Joint Custody Impacts a Child’s School Enrollment

The goal of any child custody agreement is to arrange for parental visitation in a manner that is in the best interests of the child. Depending on the situation, the child may obviously benefit more by living with one parent instead of the other, while determining an acceptable schedule is more complicated in other cases. When it comes to choosing the child’s school, the court generally aims to make a determination that will result in minimal disruption to the child’s typical schedule.

What About My Child’s Current School?

Depending on the physical and legal custody agreement between a child’s divorced parents, the child may remain in the same school or move to a different school. If one parent has sole legal and physical custody of the child, then that parent has total control over all decisions related to the child’s education. If the parents have joint custody and live within the same school district, it’s likely that the child will simply remain in the same school.

Things get complicated when parents share custody but reside in different school districts. Ideally, the parents will agree on an arrangement that works best for their child, regardless of the inconveniences it may cause either of them. However, it’s likely for each parent to have different ideas about their child’s education, as well as an obvious preference for a school that is closer to home.

If the parents cannot agree on a school for the child, the decision moves to litigation and a judge will decide. The judge will generally look at each school’s overall rating and location in relation to each parent’s home to decide what school appears to be the more practical choice in the best interests of the child.

Does My Child Have Any Say?

The court will sometimes take the child’s preference into account if the child is old enough. The court will accept a child’s contributions on the subject if the child is at least 14 years old and can articulate his or her reasoning well, per California Family Code 3042. In some cases, a judge may allow a child younger than 14 to contribute to the discussion if the situation justifies it.

The law treats a child’s remarks carefully because of the inherent desire of children to please their parents. A child may feel torn about choosing one school over the other because they don’t want to upset one parent, while other children may have very strong feelings about one school over another. Most children in such a position would prefer to remain in the current school to stay with their friends and the teachers they know. However, a child who does not like his or her current school may attempt to maneuver the discussion toward changing schools.

Preparing for a Custody Proceeding

It’s vital to prepare if you are expecting a child custody proceeding in the near future and plan to discuss your child’s school situation. While you may have personal preferences in regard to your child’s school, such as proximity to your home for ease of transportation, it’s important to set your personal feelings aside to decide what is best for your child.

Make sure you build a strong case with any evidence that supports your choice for your child’s school. This may include your child’s past report cards, awards, and acknowledgements that show he or she is a valued part of the school community; your child’s sports team records; and any other documentation that shows participation in extracurricular activities. All of these things will help show the judge your choice for your child’s school is the right one.