Summer vacation is passing by quickly and school enrollment deadlines are coming up quickly. For most parents, enrolling their kids in school is almost automatic. But for separated coparents, disputes over school districts can cause headaches, and court battles.
School Enrollment Based on Co-Parents’ Residence
In Michigan, students are generally enrolled in a given school district based on where they live. While there are always private, charter, and school-of-choice options, the default choice for school enrollment is the local school district with its convenient busing and after-school childcare options.
Once co-parents separate, the question of where a child will go to school can become more complicated. The most straight-forward choice is to use school enrollment based on the home where the children will be on the most school days. This allows kids to take the school bus, and lets them make friends at school who live nearby.
But sometimes, the custodial parent lives in a bad school district. Unfortunately, Michigan schools vary greatly in quality, and in the services they offer to students. If one parent lives in a school district that ranks poorly, it may be better to use the non-custodial parents’ address for school enrollment purposes. Children of divorced or separated parents with a custody order are treated as though they have a residence with each parent. If both co-parents agree, or if it is included in a custody order, this part of the court order should make it relatively straight forward to enroll the children in the other parent’s school district.
Courts Can Make School District Determinations
The headaches come in when co-parents can’t agree on where the children should go to school. Common school enrollment disputes happen when:
- One parent wants to home school the child
- Parents disagree about religious schooling
- One parent can’t afford private schooling
- Parents differ on special education needs
- Both parents want the kids to enroll in their local district
Motions for school district determinations are far more complicated today than they used to be. In years past, judges would often make decisions about where children should go to school based on little more than the parents’ testimony and fliers from the schools.
But today, getting your kids into the right college can take a lot of forethought. Some parents plan their children’s preschools based on expectations of academic success. Parents have come to understand that some children learn differently, or need alternative programs to be successful. In addition, pediatricians, therapists, and other medical providers often have more to say about the strategies and accommodations that will make it easier for children with learning disabilities to face challenges at school.
Now that there is so much more to think about in the educational atmosphere, co-parents and their family law attorneys need to be prepared to demonstrate why their choice of school district is best. This can include information from the school district’s website, as well as materials provided for parents on academic programs, extra-curricular activities, and special education services. It can include objective ratings from the Michigan Department of Education, or other independent school evaluators. In some cases, especially when private schools are being considered, parents may even want to hire an independent education expert to weigh the two districts and render an expert opinion on which will better serve their particular children.
It may be the middle of summer, but now is the time to talk to your co-parent about school enrollment. Deadlines to get your children into your preferred district are coming up quickly. If you need the court to make a decision, you need to speak with a family lawyer now to make sure your matter can be resolved before the school year starts. Don’t wait to make an emergency decision that could affect your child’s academic career. Start talking to your co-parent now about where your children should go to school in the fall, and avoid the school enrollment headaches.
Lisa J. Schmidt is a family lawyer at Schmidt & Long, PLLC, in Ferndale, Michigan. She helps parents address custody and parenting time disputes, including school enrollment issues. If you and your coparent can’t agree where to enroll your child, contact Schmidt & Long today to schedule a consultation.