The school year has just started. Hopefully the decision as to where your children will be spending the school year has been made. As more and more parents agree to a joint physical custody arrangement, disputes over what school the kids are going to increase. When one parent has sole physical custody it is usually a given that the children will be attending school in the district where that parent lives. But when parents have joint physical custody and the children spend significant time during the school week with both parents there is rarely any guidance on which school district the children will attend.
And when disputes arise, there is rarely a quick and easy resolution. Most decrees require that the parties attend mediation prior to returning to court. If mediation is unsuccesful, only then can you bring a motion in court asking the judge to decide which school your kid is going to. It may take a few months just to get the court date, and the judge can take up to 90 days after the hearing to issue a decision. Some parents use the services of a parenting time expediter, a neutral party who will first try to mediate disputes, but can then serve as an arbitrator and make a decision.
Unfortunately, very few parents are proactive in addressing this issue, which means the school year can start before the decision is made. I have heard at least one story in where the child ends up spending half the time in one kindergarten class and half the time in another class and another district. In addition to all of the other concerns about going to school in two different disctricts, the child was not meeting requirements for any kindergarten, which meant that the child would most likely be repeating kindergarten by the time the parents figured things out. This issue is not limited to Minnesota parents, I came across this article Parents’ Procrastination In Custody Cases Crowds Family Court Documents in The Wichita Eagle by Ron Sylvester which indicates parents across the country face this problem.
There is a simple way to avoid making your child repeat kindergarten or letting a stranger decide where your kids go to school – talk about it with the other parent and make the decisions early! If you already have a joint custody arrangement, start talking about where the kids will go to school at least a year before your child starts school or as soon as one parent moves from the current school district. If you are just separating from the other parent and considering a joint physical custody arrangement, have the conversation about school districts during your negotiations.
In every case I have where the parties will have joint physical custody I ask about where the kids will be attending school. When we have older children who have been going to the same school district for years, we may put in the court order that the children will remain at district _________. When we have younger children, or are uncertain where the parties will be living, sometimes we designate one parent’s home as the home that will determine where the kids go to school. Taking the time to discuss these issues ahead of time and put some guidance in the documents can prevent problems in the future.