School of Choice: Plan Ahead for 2017

Kids are back to school.

Believe it or not, now is the time to start planning ahead for the 2017-18 school year if you are considering School of Choice. Often times in divorce cases, custody and parenting time matters and change of domicile situations, school selection is an important factor. Co-Parents in Southeastern Michigan are fortunate to have options outside their residency but enrollment changes require much advanced planning and cooperation. A change in school district motion when parties don’t agree takes a great deal of advanced planning also because the court system does not move quickly.

school of choiceThe Child Custody Attorneys at Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates recommend giving lots of time to get court approval and school district approval to move students from their assigned schools, if you can’t agree.

A typical parenting agreement requires that the children attend the school where they reside for the majority of the school-year weekdays. In some 50/50 shared custody agreements, the parents may have a choice between their two schools.

Unless both parents moved out of the child’s previous school district, co-parents usually opt to keep the kids in their existing school. During an emotionally trying time, such as parents’ divorce, it may be beneficial to give the kids the stability of remaining in the known school environment. “The presence of familiar friends, teachers and administrators may help ease the transition from one household to two,” said Wayne-Spindler. But that is not always possible.

Reasons to Opt for School of Choice

That said, there could be good reasons for co-parents to seek alternatives to their assigned school. The most important consideration as far as the courts are concerned, is that the change must be in the child’s best interests.

Some schools provide better alternatives for the following reasons:

  • Services: Social Work, OT, PT, Special Education accommodations, speech therapy, reading recovery
  • Resources: Free Hot Breakfasts, wheelchair ramps or elevators, after-school care, music classes, ESL lessons, sports, foreign language translators
  • Schedule: Convenient school hours or vacations times
  • Academic Opportunities: STEAM, Magnet, Honors pathways or Alternative schools, or academically better MEAP or other scores that are appealing
  • Location: For some parents, it may be convenient to have the child attend the school closer to their place of employment than their residence. Or if the parents share custody during the week, they could select a school that is located halfway between their residences.

School Availability

Not every school or district offers spots to non-resident students. Many limit the availability to certain grade levels, schools or programs. With 99 school districts within the five counties (Oakland, Wayne, Livingston, Genesee and Washtenaw) of Kathryn Wayne-Spindler’s practice area it’s impossible to list every school’s policy here but the following is a list of resources to help as clients research desirable school situations.

Oakland County Schools
Oakland County Moms
Washtenaw County Schools
Howell Schools
Wayne County Schools
Genesee County Schools

School of Choice Process

Once a school or district is selected, divorced co-parents need to seek a post-judgment modification to alter the terms of the parenting agreement. This can be simple if the parties agree. It is a stipulated order agreeing to a new school and is signed by both parties with consent. However, this can take time if both parents do not agree. The parent petitioning for the change may need to call experts that could provide testimony that the school change would be in the child’s best interests. A judge will be looking for substantial and documentable increased educational opportunities, improved social environment, or additional resources. Secondarily, the courts might consider the parents’ convenience or preference. Some resources such as transportation or childcare could indirectly improve the child’s educational experience by making it less likely that the child would be truant because of parents’ scheduling conflicts. The length of the hearings and the time involved will depend on the evidence that needs to be submitted by each party. It can take a full year so you might be looking at staying in a school district you don’t like for a full academic year if you don’t start early.

Experienced Commerce Township Family Law Attorney Kathryn Wayne-Spindler helps co-parents navigate the Post-Judgement Modification and School of Choice process. Kathryn has handled many of these cases in her career. Contact the Milford, Michigan law office at 248-676-1000 for assistance with changes to existing parenting orders. Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates attorneys handle cases throughout Southeastern Michigan including Oakland, Wayne, Washtenaw, Genesee and Livingston Counties. The compassionate Michigan attorneys at Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates help clients in Milford; Highland; Hartland; Wixom; Walled Lake; White Lake; Commerce Township; Waterford; West Bloomfield; Howell; South Lyon; Linden; New Hudson; Grand Blanc; Holly and many more local communities.

Written and Posted by Christine Donlon Long,
Communications’ Specialist for Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates