If a person has a child approaching kindergarten in the Fall of 2020, or a child in 8th grade and ready to begin High School, choice of school issues should now be front and center.
We, at the Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman, LLC Firm, believe, and advise our clients, that the Fall season, of the year before the beginning of the following school year, is the appropriate time to determine if parents are in agreement regarding school choice. If not, a Petition for Custody (if parties have no custody order) or a Petition to Modify an existing order, should be filed right away.
School choice can be a thorny issue. If one parent already enjoys primary physical child custody and substantially more custodial time with the child than the other parent, that parent with primary custody will likely have the child go to school near the primary custodian’s home. But that is not a hard and fast rule. Each case is unique, as are the factors in each case. Here are but a few considerations:
a. Private School (Parochial or Private) v. Public School: Has the child been in private school for a number of years? What are the economics of the parties? Is there an excellent public school alternative? These are but a few of the types of questions that may arise.
b. Is one parent in the suburbs and the other parent in Philadelphia?: Does the parent in the suburbs live in an area with an excellent school district and far superior schools? Like it or not, if one parent lives in Lower Merion, Abington, Council Rock, or other similar school district, this can be an important factor in determining school choice? Is this one fact going to overwhelm the conversation? Not necessarily, but it is an important consideration for the Court. What if the parent in the suburbs, in the superior school, is the parent who has partial custody, is inconsistent with attending visits and hasn’t developed a deep bond with the child? This can be a heavily weighted fact also.
c. Does the child have special needs, which only a specialized school can meet? This can be a very important factor, especially if the school, which is not the specialized school, can’t meet the needs of the child.
Many times, parents float along in a Custody Order, especially a shared physical custody order (equal time), and it is not until school-age time that controversy arises regarding which school, in which neighborhood, will the child attend. If parents, for example, live 45 minutes apart (South Philadelphia and the Far Northeast or Roxborough), a shared or equal physical custody schedule simply won’t work during a school week, or will e very difficult on the child to get to school for an 8:00 AM bell. It is not until the school choice issue arises that parents realize shared physical custody while living 45 minutes apart has little chance of success during the school year.
Parents need to objectively assess the situation, with the question being not what is best for the parent, but what is best for the child. That is what the Court will do, look out for the best interest of the child. If we can be of help, contact us today.