Joint Legal Custody and School Enrollment

School has started up again. But for many parents who share joint legal custody, the question is being brought up again on who determines which school the children will attend. Disagreements can arise over the ratings of schools, the quality of the courses offered, the cost of attending the school, or the distance that the children will have to travel to attend the desired school. Deciding which school is best for the children is not an easy decision and parents can disagree without hope of finding a resolution before the start of the school year.

In Michigan, the first answer is determining the type of custody the parents have. Physical custody is when a parent provides most of the day-to-day care of the child. Legal custody is when the parent has the responsibility to make the major decisions that affect the child’s health, education, welfare, enrichment activities, camp, and travel. Sole custody is when one parent has been granted both physical and legal custody. Joint custody is when the physical or legal custody is shared by the parties. It is possible for one parent to be awarded the primary physical custody while sharing legal custody with the other parent.

For parents with joint legal custody in Michigan, the first consideration should be if one parent has physical custody. When one parent has primary physical custody, the choice of school tends to be the district in which they reside. The court’s order may clarify that the children will attend school in this district, unless the parties agree otherwise. If both parents have joint legal and physical custody, then they must agree on the choice of school for the children. For these parents, reviewing the last custody order to determine if the issue of school enrollment has been resolved may end a disagreement on school enrollment.

When the order is silent on the selection of schools, then the parties must attempt to agree on the choice of school. When an agreement is not possible, then resorting to mediation or the assistance of the assigned judge becomes necessary. If this happens, the mediator will help the parents reach an agreement or the judge will determine where the child attends school. If the parents have ongoing disagreements that adversely affect the child’s welfare, then the court may award sole custody or sole legal custody to one parent. 

Regardless of who can decide on the choice of school, neither parent should intentionally fail to list the other parent on school forms. Contact information for both parents should be listed on emergency forms and access to parent portals should be equally provided with both parents having separate accounts. If the court order restricts a parenting time or pick up locations, then providing a copy of the order to school personnel should be included with other requested documents.  

In the end, parents must learn to put aside the differences and emotions that can accompany the divorce or custody proceedings to reach agreements that place the child’s best interests ahead of the parent’s wishes. If you cannot reach an agreement with the other parent for whatever reason, seeking out experienced legal custody may be necessary. Call (248) 329-0344 or contact us today if you need help resolving disputes over school enrollment.

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