Many parents who are in the midst of divorcing will disagree about what school their child should attend. Oftentimes, the school choice corresponds with where one parent lives.  However, there can be other reasons for choosing a specific school for a child. Some of these include how the child is adjusted to their current school, the academic curriculum, extra-curricular activity options, the child’s friends, and/or the potential benefits of moving to a new school.

The decision of where a child will attend school is also impacted by the custody labels and the primary residence designation, if any. If one parent has sole physical custody or primary residence, and the child attends school in the school district based on where the parent with sole physical custody lives, you may need to seek a court order allowing the child to switch schools. However, having sole physical custody does not give that parent the ultimate decision-making authority over school enrollment. If one parent has sole legal custody, on the other hand, then that parent does have the ultimate decision-making authority about the child’s education. If both parents share legal custody, you may need the court to resolve a disagreement in school enrollment. This is called a change-of-school motion, and the standard applied by the courts is the “best interest” factors enumerated in Minn. Stat. § 518.17, subd. 1. The risk in  going straight to court with a motion is that it takes the ultimate decision making out of your hands and places it in the hands of the judge, who only know the facts presented to them in the motion. The judge will most likely not understand the child as a parent would and, often, judges prefer that such major decisions be decided by the parents.

For these reasons, parents who disagree about school enrollment should try mediation, a parenting consultant, or other forms of alternative dispute resolution first. In these processes, the professional neutral assigned to your case will take the time to really get to know the parents and child to help resolve the case in the child’s best interests. The neutral will help both parents identify their priorities, brainstorm new options, and ultimately come to a resolution without having to go to court. Common reasons for seeking to change school enrollment include the commute, transportation options, parents’ work schedules, tuition costs, religious preferences, special-education programs, and the school’s education ranking. These are factors that can be thoroughly explored through alternative dispute resolution.

Now that the 2020-2021 school year has ended, it is time for parents to starting thinking about where their children will attend school for the 2021-2022 school year. With COVID-19 rapidly changing rules and regulations, and the new world of distance learning, many parents may decide to pursue a new or different school option than any considered in the past. Scheduling mediation or appointing a parenting consultant takes time—for that reason, parents should speak to an attorney about options now.

If you and your child’s other parent are disagreeing over school enrollment, contact the family law attorneys at Heimerl & Lammers today at 612-294-2200.