Back to School

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With school back in full swing for children all around San Diego County, I thought I would focus my blog on a very common occurrence in child custody matter; school enrollment.

When two parents decide to get a divorce, one or both of them will often move out of the family residence. With the cost of living so high in San Diego, that can mean moving out of the neighborhood the parties lived while they were together. If the parents end up living in close proximity, the issue of where their children will be enrolled for school is an easy one. What happens when the parents move to other parts of town or into different school districts? This can create a huge headache for parents and children resulting in hours spent commuting to school and work.

If the parties share joint legal custody, they are generally required to make decisions such as school enrollment for their children jointly. (There is a legal loophole for this issue that can be found in Family Code ยง3083, but be very careful attempting to circumvent joint legal custody orders – you may be on the right side of the law, but you could end up on the wrong side of a Judge.)

If the parents cannot reach an agreement, one of them will have to file a motion asking the court to make the decision. Motions related to school enrollment are decided using the best interest of the child standard. From a legal perspective, the request is no different than a parent filing a motion asking for their custodial time to be increased.

In almost all cases the parties will be required to attend child custody mediation to attempt to resolve the matter. If an agreement is not reached in mediation, the mediator will release a recommendation for the court’s consideration.

In making the decision, the court will look at several factors in making the decision about where the children will be enrolled. While not an exhaustive list, the following are major factors the court can consider.

First is the location of the school in connection with the primary custodial parent’s home. This is common sense; if the children are with one parent a majority of the school week, it makes sense that they attend school nearby.

Another factor the Court will look at is whether the children are zoned for a school they have always attended. Consistency in child custody matters is important to the court, so if possible, the court will consider allowing the children to stay at the school they have always attended.

Finally, the court will consider the respective school rankings and test scores. If all other factors between the competing schools are the same, but one school is rated a 10 on greatschools.org or school-ratings.com, often Judges will choose the school that provides the best chance at success for the children.

In unique situations, the parties can retain or consult with educational experts that specialize is school placement for exceptional students, children with IEPs, or other special school related issues. A qualified family law attorney can assist you with deciding what course of action is best for you.

If school enrollment is an issue in your case, or if you think that it could be, it is important to act quickly. Obtaining a hearing date can take as long as 120 days, so you have to plan ahead. It is unlikely you will get a decision from a Judge if you wait until the last minute; leaving you and your kids in limbo. You also run the risk of your kids transitioning from one school at the beginning of the year only to move again several months later.

We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California’s child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Nancy J. Bickford, a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Please call 858-793-8884 to understand how she can help your child custody battle begin and end with keeping your kids where they belong: With you.

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