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Can separated parents pick the better school district, even if a child primarily lives outside of it?

In most school districts, as long as a child has a residence within the school district, they can attend that district's school even if they spend most of their time at another residence outside the district. It's best to check directly with the district to confirm this sort of arrangement is okay. If parents can agree to send their child to the school in the preferred district, there should be no problem. However, some services, such as busing and extracurriculars, may be limited to within the district, which can complicate arrangements.

What happens when parents disagree about where their child should go to school?

The decision about schooling is the responsibility of whichever parent has legal custody of the child. If only one parent has primary legal custody, then that parent may make all of those decisions. In many situations, however, parents will share joint legal custody. In these co-parenting arrangements, decisions about schooling should be outlined in a Parenting Plan, or similar document, which both parents should follow. If the parents cannot agree about the child's school, the decision will be made by a judge, unless the Parenting Plan has a dispute resolution process built into it. Typically, until a judge makes a decision, or the dispute is resolved, a child should remain at their current school.

If legal custody is not shared and the parent without legal custody wants to change the child's school, they will need the consent of the parent with legal custody. Again, the process for making such a change, and resolving disputes, should be in the Parenting Plan. If it is not, and the parent with legal custody disagrees, then the requested change will likely require the court's involvement. 

Will a court evaluate whether one school district is better than another when determining custody?

A school district alone is rarely a reason to award primary custody to one parent over the other. It is possible to set up custody and support plans so that a child lives with one parent during the school week and the other during weekends and school vacations. It is common for parents to share custodial and legal responsibilities.

That said, the parenting schedule may be impacted by the school district. While a judge may not remove custody from a fit parent simply due to school districts, primary weekday custody could be awarded to a parent who lives in a preferred district. This can come up if excessive tardiness or absences result from living too far away. After all, most courts will be evaluating what is best for a child, and that involves quite a bit more than just school districts.

Do children get to pick the school they go to?

In some states, a judge will ask a child's preference if they are past a certain age. While a judge does not have to agree, they may take it into account when making a decision. Generally, the law provides some leeway, as children may just say what they think a parent wants to hear. Yet, if a child is uncomfortable or unhappy in a particular school, and the other parent lives in a different district, the judge may consider that factor, among many other factors, when making decisions. 

If you and a co-parent are facing difficult parenting decisions about childcare, education, and healthcare, talking to an attorney can help. You can talk to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for legal advice on your parenting questions.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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