It’s Back-to-School time. If this year you find yourself arguing with your co-parent about where your child should be attending classes, it may feel like you are spiralling toward a court battle. The good news is there are tools you can use to make decisions on enrolling your child in school together and avoid the need to get a judge involved in your choice.
This blog post will discuss strategies parents can use to resolve the question of where their children will attend school. It will discuss the general rule in Minnesota, and strategies you can use to avoid having to file a change of schools motion. It will also explain how a skilled family law professional can help resolve the dispute and keep your child's best interests in mind.
No one wants to go back to court after their divorce or child custody case is resolved. But families using a traditional adversarial model to handle their family law issues often see filing motions to modify or enforce their orders as the go-to solution when co-parents can’t agree. The trouble with this strategy is that it takes control away from the parents and gives judges the final say over what will happen to the children.
Minnesota judges hear change of school motions frequently. They apply the standard of what is in the child’s best interest and make a decision based on the facts presented to them. But the judge assigned to your case doesn’t know your child the way you and your co-parent do. Without very extensive litigation, the judge will be making his or her decisions with only part of the information. As a parent, you have lived with your child, with all her strengths and challenges. You know what is most important to her and for her education. You don’t necessarily need a judge to make the decision. Instead, you need someone to help you and your co-parent make the best decision for your family and your collective priorities.
In most cases, disagreements over where a child will go to school arise out of the different priorities of the co-parents. The parent with more parenting time during the school week may place a higher value a school’s location. A co-parent with a stronger tie to one religious community may prefer a private school within their faith. Another parent may not have the money for the tuition that comes with that choice. To get to the bottom of these disagreements, both parents need to recognize the reasons for their preferences. Then, they can work together to brainstorm ways to meet both parents’ priorities.
Besides each parent’s preferences, there are a number of factors that can affect co-parents’ decisions on where to enroll their child in school. As you work through the matter together, be sure to consider:
The last few factors are often the most significant. If you have an especially gifted child, a child with special needs, or a child who engages in particular extracurricular activities, you want to be certain the school you choose has the programs your child needs to succeed. One way to do that is through an online school rating program. These websites can provide insight into a school’s programming, teachers, and course offerings, as well as ratings from other parents in the district. However, if you are considering a private school, you should be aware that they do not always use the same measurements for success. Be certain you know the standards each school is measuring against, so you can compare like with like.
There is nothing that says co-parents need to take their school enrollment disputes to court. In fact, most Minnesota judges prefer if parents are able to resolve these issues themselves without filing a motion.
If you and your former spouse simply cannot agree on where to enroll your child in school by yourselves, it may help to enlist the aid of an experienced mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party who can meet with both co-parents to help them identify their priorities, explore options, and come to a resolution that is in the family’s best interest as a whole. The agreements reached at the end of a mediation are final among the parties, so you know that once you have reached a decision, you won’t have to worry about the issue coming up again in the future.
Deciding which school is best for your child doesn’t have to break down into a trip to the courthouse. By thoughtfully considering why you want your child to go to a particular school and working with a mediator to identify the best interests of your child, you can skip the judge and move straight to enrolling your child in school together with your co-parent.
Kimberly is an experienced mediator with a successful record in reaching positive solutions for families. She can use facilitated mediation techniques to help you and your co-parent resolve your school enrollment disputes outside the courtroom. If you would like to learn more about facilitated mediation, please contact Kimberly.