Child Custody & Changing Schools

By Beverly Bird
Moving a child to a different school can affect custody arrangements.

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In most states, a parent who wants to modify or change a custody order must prove that a change of circumstance has warranted it. When a custodial parent intends to move a child from one school to another and the change has an impact on the child’s time and relationship with her other parent, some states will consider this a change of circumstance worthy of a new custody order. When a court must rule on such an issue, judges take several factors into consideration.

Joint Legal Custody

In most states, having joint legal custody means that both parents are involved in making major decisions on their child’s behalf, including educational issues. Physical custody might also be joint, but generally one parent is the custodial parent while the non-custodial parent has visitation. Children usually attend school in the district where their custodial parents reside. Problems may occur when the custodial parent wants to relocate to another school district, or when the custodial parent decides on her own, without the agreement of the other parent, to change the child’s school for other reasons.

Effect on Visitation

When the custodial parent is relocating and that is the cause of the school change, most state courts will look to how it affects the other parent’s visitation time with the child before allowing the move. Custody law in most states rules that if an existing parenting plan or visitation schedule is radically changed for any reason, such as by a move, the custody order is voided. It’s a change of circumstance and a whole new custody order is necessary to accommodate it. For example, if the custodial parent intends to move 100 miles away, this would impact the non-custodial parent’s day-to-day interaction with the child and would warrant a new custody order. However, if the custodial parent simply wants to change the child’s school for some other reason, each parent would only have to prove which school is in the best interest of the child. It would not be an issue that would change a custody order.

The Child’s Wishes

Once a child is of a certain age -- usually a teenager -- he gets a say of his own in any matter that involves changing schools. Rarely will a court force a high-school student to make such a change against his will, especially in his senior year. In such cases, a judge might rule that the teenager will remain in the custody of the parent not relocating. This, too, is a change of circumstance that would require a new custody order. If an older child wants to change schools for some reason, though his custodial parent is not relocating, state courts will likely grant his wish. This would not generally affect the visitation plan in place between the parents.

Best Interest of the Child

Most state courts will fall back on what is in the best interest of the child when forced to make custody changes, and judges lean toward maintaining consistency in the child’s life. When a custodial parent wants to relocate to such a distance that it would impact the child’s interaction with her other parent, the custodial parent would normally have the burden of proof to show why the child would benefit from such a move.

About the Author

Beverly Bird is a practicing paralegal who has been writing professionally on legal subjects for over 30 years. She specializes in family law and estate law and has mediated family custody issues.

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