Choosing a School When Parents Share Custody

When parents are sharing custody but live in different school districts, deciding the best school for the children to attend can be challenging. I’ve been involved in many situations when the parents disagree on where their child should attend school. Usually, we can’t find an easy answer, but with mediation or collaborative practices, we work together to evaluate the options and reach the best decision for the family. In reaching a decision, we often look at the following issues.

About the school

The first set of factors you might want to consider begin with your evaluation of what your child needs in a school and whether any of the potential schools meet those needs.

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  • Start by asking yourselves, “What does our child need in a school?”

  • Working together, if possible, create criteria or a list of factors that are important to your child. For example, does he or she thrive in a small school or would the challenges of a larger school with more extensive educational opportunities be more suitable? Do you need before school or after school care? What are the options? Would you prefer that certain subjects be included in the curriculum? Does your child anticipate participating in sports? Which ones?

  • What are the options for this year and the next several years? Research which schools the child would attend this year and in upcoming years using each parents’ residence.

  • Tour the options.

  • Have you overlooked an option? Is there a charter school or private school that you should include in your evaluation?

  • Schedule a tour together, during the school year if possible. Interview the principal, the guidance counselors, and some teachers to determine the benefits and drawbacks of each school. Strive to be open-minded during this part of the process.

  • Evaluate the schools for your child.

  • Using the criteria, you’ve developed and notes from your tour, compare the schools. Are the schools equal? Does one school district seem better this year but another seems more suitable next year?

  • If your child is preparing to enter college, would one school or residence best promote higher education opportunities? Funding? (Some states restrict in-state tuition in shared parenting families).

About maximizing the parent-child relationships

Another critical set of questions will address what you can do to improve the opportunity for your child to have a close relationship with both parents.

  • Map out the location of the schools and both parents’ workplaces and residences. Consider traffic and the time to travel to and from school.

  • Would one school location be most convenient to both parents’ workplace or residences?

  • Would one location be tough for either parent to be able to pick or drop the child off from regularly?

  • Can your child take the bus from one house or another? Is that important to you?

  • Would a configuration minimize the travel time for your child?

  • How does your parenting plan divide custodial time during the week? Does your child spend Monday and Tuesday night at one house and Wednesday and Thursday at the other? Does your parenting plan alternate weeks? Or does your plan have the child at one home from Monday after school until Friday morning? How will the school schedule be consistent with a program that your child may be comfortable with? How could it be modified to encourage maximum time with both parents?

About being at home

Your child is going to want to feel at home at both houses and have friends in both homes. These factors are designed to help you consider those issues.

  • Could your child attend school in one school district and participate in most, if not all, extracurricular activities at the other? How would the child get to and from events? Would that provide him or her with two sets of friends?

  • Do both homes provide a similar schedule? Do both houses have a functional space for your child to do homework and to get a good night’s sleep?

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About other relationships

Finally, your child has relationships with folks other than their parents, neighbors and friends. Can you select a school that will maintain and allow positive relationships to grow?

  • Does your child have siblings? Do you agree that they should live together? If so, evaluate the schools for both children.

  • Does your child have step-siblings? Extended family nearby? What is the best way to encourage those relationships in a positive way? Does the extended family provide support or child care? How can that best be maintained?

What if you can’t agree?

Contact me to pursue your options with mediation or collaborative practice. Our office may be able to work with you to explore these questions and come up with the best choice for your family.

If you cannot agree in mediation, you may want to agree to a child specialist to help you find the best option for your family.