• Changing Schools Poses Challenges for Parents and Students
  • August 27, 2013
  • Law Firm: P. Scott Micho Esq. - Syracuse Office
  • Earlier this summer, a British think tank named RSA released a report showing how “[m]oving schools multiple times has a devastating impact on pupil’s grades.” It echoed the findings of many similar studies conducted in the United States. That is not to say, switching schools is bad for every student. Much depends on the student’s grade level, socio-economic considerations, and the quality of the schools to and from which they move. As a 2000 study by New York University researchers noted, for example, “[e]arly mobility (prior to third grade) was a more potent predictor of sixth-grade achievement than later mobility.”

    In light of such studies, the decision to change a child’s school is never easy, especially when the parents are divorced or separated. If the parents have joint legal custody, they must mutually agree on major issues relating to the child’s upbringing, such as religion, health care and education. Even if both parties agree on the merits of a move, which is not often the case, a school change usually requires a court order.

    As with other child custody matters, courts will base their decision on whether to allow the school change on whatever is in the best interest of the child. “The prospective educational opportunity that each parent could provide the children is relevant in a best interest analysis,” the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department said in King v. King (1996).

    For example, in Mineo v. Mineo (2012), the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department found it would be in the child’s best interest to allow a divorced mother to enroll her child in a different school district over the objections of the father. The court supported the switch because it would “enhance the lives of the mother and the child financially inasmuch as it would alleviate the mother’s burden of transporting the child to and from [the schools] or, in the alternative, finding new housing...[that] would enable the mother to increase her efforts to obtain employment.” Additionally, the court noted that the school district in which the mother wanted to enroll her child was not inferior to the one in which the child had been enrolled and the switch would not affect the father’s access to the child.

    If the parents with joint custody have an antagonistic relationship and cannot agree on where the child should attend school, the court may need to modify the custody arrangement. That’s what happened in Trapp v. Trapp (1988). At the time the couple in this case divorced, they had three infant children over whom they had joint-decision-making authority on matters such as choice of schools, psychological or psychiatric treatment, counseling, doctors and surgeons, religion, and citizenship. Meanwhile, the wife was granted custody of the children and the father was afforded visitation rights.

    The husband in Trapp had opposed one child’s enrollment in a preparatory school near her family in Switzerland, against the recommendation of the mother, the child’s school authorities and a psychologist. Among other things, he also opposed another child’s enrollment in a Hudson Valley private school and instead wanted the child enrolled in a school 45 minutes not accessible by public or private transportation. “On this record, it is obvious that the parents cannot jointly decide issues affecting their children, and that joint custody as ordered here would only work a disservice to the children,” the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department said.

    The wife had requested the joint legal custody arrangement be modified. Although, the court kept intact the parent’s joint decision-making authority on matters involving religion and citizenship, it vacated a lower court’s order and judgment regarding the parent’s joint decision-making authority on matters relating to the choice or change of schools, college or camps and psychological or psychiatric treatment or counseling, doctors or surgeons.