Custody and School Choice

School Choice and Joint Legal Decision-Making Battles Heat Up in AZ

During May, June and July, I talk to a lot of parents with school choice issues. They know that if they are contemplating a move for their child, or a move for themselves that will affect where the child attends school, now is the time to figure out what needs to be done within the family law court system.

Whether you have a child entering kindergarten or high school, the first step is the same: is there an award of legal decision making in place? If so, do you have joint legal decision-making (or joint custody) or sole legal decision-making (or custody)?

Most people have joint legal decision-making, which means you need to talk to the other parent about the decision to change schools. I recommend this be in writing! When I say talk to the other parent, I do not mean emailing the other parent to tell them that you have decided Junior needs to change schools and he will now be attending New School. You need to demonstrate effort and co-parenting and reaching a decision jointly.

If one parent has been designated the “final decision maker,” your first step of informing the other parent in writing of your concerns and starting the conversation is the same. Again, even if you have the final decision making authority, you need to start with a discussion. It is important for you to demonstrate reasonableness and cooperation. If, after your discussions, you and the other parent disagree, go ahead and enroll the child in the school of your choice. As a practical matter, I recommend at least one month between initiating the discussion and enrolling the child. Also, be prepared to demonstrate the reasons for the move. Even though you have the final decision making authority there is nothing stopping the other parent from challenging your decision in court.

If there is no legal order in place, who decides? This is the trickiest situation. See https://mymodernlaw.com/who-has-legal-decision-making-rights-custody-of-a-child-born-to-un-wed-parents-in-arizona/

In this situation, you can either (1) agree with the other parent; (2)enroll the child wherever you would like and see if they challenge the decision; or (3) go to court to establish legal decision-making, parenting time and support. The family court system is there for parents who need to opt in. If you and the other parent have everything worked out, there really is no need to go into the system.

If there is a pending divorce or other family court action, a motion for temporary orders may be the best way to increase the changes that your school choice issue will get before a Judge in time to enroll Junior in the school you would like. If there is deadlock between parents it is possible that the schools will refuse to enroll him.

If you have any questions on school choice or any other family law matter, do not hesitate to give us a call at 480-649-2905.