CUSTODY PLANNING AND THE IMPACT OF SCHOOL CHOICE
As our society continues to be more mobile, forward-thinking parents, who are do not live with the other parent of their child, need to think about the impact of the quality of the school their child does or will attend, and the impact of that choice on their custodial rights and schedule. As those of you who are regular readers of our Newsletters and our Website know, the Court considers Custody Factors, or custody criteria, in deciding Custody cases. While, in general, the court considers each factor with equal weight, the simple truth is that for school age children, the quality of school, which the child will or does attend, is a critical factor in the Court’s decision as with whom the child will primarily reside.
This is true in the regular Custody case as well as in the Relocation case. There are several web sites on the internet which provide ratings of schools, both in Pennsylvania and in the United States. Certain of these websites are accepted by the Court in deciding which school is a better choice for the child.
Further, most states publish test scores, by School and School District. These are likewise admissible in Court in deciding Custody and Relocation cases.
If a parent is considering relocating to a different part of the country, that parent should research the school district, which the parent is considering. Further, in Relocation cases, a parent, before moving, must first complete, file and serve on the other parent a Notice of Relocation. This is a court form. On that form, one item that must be provided to the other parent is the name of the particular School and School District, which the child will attend, at the proposed new location. It is incumbent upon that parent to choose the best school district and school, which they can. It will have a dramatic impact on whether a Judge will permit the parent who wishes to Relocate, to actually be able to do so.
In standard Custody cases, if a child is in a bad school and one parent does not wish to move the child out of that school, this would be a prime reason to ask the Court to change custody to the other parent, if the other parent either lives in a better school district or can make arrangements for the child to attend a superior school. In Philadelphia, for example, some of the schools have ratings that are less than attractive. At the same time, there are a number of suburban school districts that have far superior ratings. If a parent wished to move to one of these superior school districts, the Court would be hard-pressed to deny the child the opportunity to attend the suburban school. This, of course, presupposes that both parents are viewed by the Court as good parents and do not have any personal issues, which would make the school not an overwhelming factor by the Court.
In summation, School choice is an important consideration. Those planning their Custodial arrangements need to consider this element of the case and the benefit a properly chosen school can have on their chances in Custody litigation. Working closely with an experienced Family Lawyer is important in making the most of your ability to secure primary physical custody of your child or children. Don’t underestimate the power of taking the time to find an excellent school for your child. It will produce dividends for you in a Custody case.
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