Children are affected by divorce in many ways, including some unexpected ways, such as school selection and busing. THELAW.TV asked the lawyers at Law Offices of Reese, Samley, Wagenseller, Mecum, and Longer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania to explain how a divorce may affect your child's education.
With the nation's growing debt and subsequent cuts for public education, it's no wonder school districts are looking for new ways to reduce budgets. For Lancaster County resident Tim W., these cuts meant a serious obstacle. Manheim Township School District had previously provided transportation to eligible students to and from "multiple locations," but attempted to reduce operating expenses in 2011 and only offer transportation to one location.
For the non-divorced family, this minor change made no difference. For divorced or separated parents, it made all the difference in the world. For Tim, who shared 50-50 joint custody of their son with his ex-wife, it meant struggling to find alternate transportation for his son. The school district named Tim's ex-wife's residence as the primary residence and refused bus service to and from Tim's home, even though there were empty seats on the bus. For several months, Tim's only option was to hire someone to drive his son for him.
Divorcing parents have enough to think about without weighing every possible challenge they may face down the road. Unfortunately, the future of your children is integral in your divorce settlements, especially if you and your spouse are not parting amicably.
Choosing a School District
While the law varies from state to state, you have several options for picking the school district your child will be part of. Even if you don't have 50-50 joint custody, it doesn't mean that your child will go to school in the district where the parent with primary custody resides. If you have a specific district in mind, you can specify that your child will attend that school provided that one of the parents lives in the district.
Sometimes agreements are worded so that the child attends school in the district where one of the parents lives, and if that parent moves, the child may change districts. This may become an issue down the road if you or your spouse moves and wants to change districts. Be sure that your agreement specifies a certain mile radius that you can move or a list of acceptable school districts.
Making Educational Decisions
Many divorcing couples will agree to a joint custody relationship where both parties have equal say in making educational decisions for their children. Typically, school districts are good about ensuring that both parents have a legal right to be informed and involved in their child's education.
For those who do not share joint custody, it gets a little trickier. The wording of your divorce agreement must be crystal clear, to clear up any potential problems with the school district. Outline who is responsible for making decisions, as well as who can attend school functions and parent teacher conferences.
As a Non-Custodial Parent
Many court cases have fought over the issue of the rights of non-custodial parents in their child's education. Non-custodial parents may not agree with the educational decisions of the custodial parent, and often they are unable to do anything about it.
Often, the divorce agreements must state that non-custodial parents have rights to make decisions along with the custodial parents.
In some cases, non-custodial parents have taken the issue to courts, but have been overruled, because non-custodial parents do not have rights to make educational decisions when the divorce settlement does not state it. It is important to note the difference between the right to make decisions and the right to participate in their child's education. It is normally acceptable – and encouraged – for the non-custodial parent to see records, to participate in parent-teacher conferences, and to attend extra-curricular activities.
There was a successful outcome in Tim's case. After a long court battle, the courts finally ruled in Tim's favor, saying that if divorced parents share equal custody of a child, a school district can't choose to provide school bus service to only one of their homes. Tim's attorney acknowledges that the ruling is fairly narrow since the child has two legal residences and the divorce agreement was settled long before this school district policy changes.
In your divorce, it won't be possible to predict all the ways your child's education can be complicated after you and your spouse part ways. However, you can mitigate many issues by having an airtight divorce settlement and discussing all your options with a divorce attorney in your state.
The authors of this article are family law attorneys in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at Law Offices of Reese, Samley, Wagenseller, Mecum, and Longer.