School Change Considerations

One issue that comes up somewhat frequently in family law is changing schools. There are various reasons parents seek to change schools, whether it be a move to a different school district, children struggling at their current school, a switch from public to private or vice versa, or perhaps the school issue wasn’t addressed initially because the children were young and that was overlooked. Regardless of the reason, what was the best school for the children at the time a judgment of divorce or custody was entered may no longer be the best school for your children.

Fortunately, courts recognize this and will order a change in school district if they find it to be in the best interests of the children.

When both parents have joint legal custody, they must agree on the school they will be sending their child or children to. One party does not get to select the school on their own. However, like many issues with divorced or separated parents, reaching an agreement can be difficult. Unfortunately, the school issue is an either/or proposition with no room for compromise. While many issues in family law allow for negotiation, with the school issue there really is no middle ground where the parties can make concessions and agree to meet in the middle. These means one party will need to file a motion to change schools in the court system to settle the issue. This takes time and you must have a good reason. If you file this a few weeks before school starts chances are it will not happen that quickly. Plan in advance. 

It is important to understand that with certain matters, the courts cannot always make quick decisions. While some issues can be resolved at the first motion date, due to the complexity and importance of a school issue, the courts generally need to schedule an evidentiary hearing allowing the parties to present more detailed evidence as to why the children should go to the school they want. These hearings are more in depth than a normal motion hearing and in the more populated counties with busier dockets such as Wayne and Oakland, it can take weeks or even months to get a date for such a hearing. Even in smaller counties, they may schedule them a little further out to allow time for the parties to collect and gather any necessary evidence they may want to present. This means that it can easily take months to get a final decision on a school change.

While not every situation can always be planned for, and sometimes school change issues arise suddenly, it’s important to be proactive when it comes to seeking to change schools. Filing a motion in August will not get you a decision by the start of the school year. Even filing in June or July is unlikely to get you a resolution by the first day of school. In these cases, the courts generally prefer to minimize any disruption to the child’s life and the child will usually remain in the same school or district they are already enrolled in until a final decision can be made. Because of this, the further entrenched into a school year a child is, the less likely the court will order a switch in the middle of the school year. Of course, every case is different and the facts of your situation may require it, but it is rare that courts will order a change in school in the middle of a term or semester. Therefore, if you want your child to make the transition to a new school at the start of the school year, it is best to start planning early in the year and be ready to file prior to the summer before.

If you are seeking a school change it is important to put your best foot forward in presenting the reasons why a change is appropriate. Keep in mind, school choice is about what is best for the educational needs of your children, and you need to show the court that the school you are proposing is the best school to meet those needs. What is most convenient for a parent is not a consideration, and courts certainly do not want to see situations where the school issue is just another avenue for the parents to disagree and continue to fight. There are so many considerations that go into selecting a school beyond just “this school is rated better than that one.” A school being rated highly may be good in general, but that does not mean it’s the school best suited for meeting your child’s needs. Talking with teachers and understanding your child’s educational needs is paramount. If you have firm grasp on your child’s educational strengths and weaknesses, you’re better armed to find a school to meet those needs. For example, if you are aware your child needs more one-on-one instruction, pushing to enroll him in the large local public school may not be the best way to meet those needs. Conversely, if you are not involved in your child’s education and the teachers do not even know who you are, the courts will be more skeptical as to why you are pushing for a particular school.

Due to the complexities and time considerations regarding school change motions, it is important not to wait until August to contact an attorney. The more proactive you are, the more credibility you will have in the court’s eyes regarding how serious you consider your child or children’s educational needs.

The Law Offices of Kathryn M. Wayne-Spindler, P.C. has over 25 years of experience litigating family law cases and has litigated countless school choice motions. Contact our Milford office at (248) 676-1000 to discuss your situation today. We help clients throughout Southeastern Michigan, including Genesee, Oakland Livingston, Washtenaw, and Wayne Counties, as well as Mid-Michigan in Clare, Gladwin, Ogemaw, and Roscommon Counties. Our experienced attorneys have counseled such clients in Milford, Hartland, Highland, White Lake, Commerce, Walled Lake, Waterford, West Bloomfield, South Lyon, New Hudson, Brighton, Howell, Ann Arbor, Holly, Fenton, Flint, Linden, Clarkston, Houghton Lake, Higgins Lake, Roscommon and many more local communities.