We have joint custody. Who gets to make decisions about school?

kids walking to school when parents with joint custody disagreeIn Wisconsin, the beginning of the school year is fast approaching and so is a common child custody question: who gets to make decisions about my child’s education? In a sole custody situation, the answer is clear. All decisions, including school matters, are made by the parent or guardian that is granted sole custody. However, when custody is shared, questions about which school to go to, who pays for school fees and tuition, and who is responsible for making vital education decisions is not always so obvious.

This is one of those situations that should be addressed as soon as possible, and the first attempts at resolution should be made through conversations between the parents. For school choice, try to address the issue the spring before because legal action is a process that takes time; it can take months to get a court date and resolve the issue. For issues concerning tuition, school fees, or other education-related expenses, the division of costs typically follows the percentage of custody; if custody is divided 75/25, a $100 fee would be split up to a $75 and $25 responsibility. There are exceptions, however, and situations where the answer is somewhat ambiguous.

If the relationship between parents is somewhat amicable (though there is still disagreement), try mediation. In some divorces and courts, mediation is a required action before litigation. Mediation is the process of meeting with a neutral third-party (called a mediator) to come to a mutual resolution of important matters.  For the process to be successful, both parties need to agree on those issues. The advantage of the process is that it can be significantly cheaper than going through litigation. Mediation meetings can also be set up on a schedule that works for both parties, as opposed to court dates that are set by the court system. Matters of mediation are also not a matter of public record. To initiate mediation, contact a local experienced law firm that offers the service.

When both parties are at opposite ends of the issue, the matter may be decided in the court system. Contact a lawyer to find out options for resolution and get their recommendation for the next step. The court typically bases their decision on many factors, such (but not limited to) as financial situation of each parent, the child’s current situation, how “vested” the child is in a school system, location (of parents and the school), any special needs, and the rating of the school system(s). The court system may appoint an attorney to act as a guardian ad litem to make a recommendation. In some situations, the court can alter custodial decisions, such as changing from joint custody to sole custody for future educational decisions. An experienced family lawyer can walk the parent through the process and ensure that due diligence is taken on all aspects of the process needed for resolution.

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