Back to School . . . . But Where?
Let’s say you were fortunate enough to resolve the custody and access of your young child following a divorce. Perhaps, like many couples, you agreed to an equally shared physical custody and decided to have joint legal custody. You and your ex have been getting along great and co-parenting together. You only live a few miles away from each other, so transitions during the week are not a problem. Everything seems to be going well, and you are both moving on with your life. Now, it comes time to enroll little Johnny in Kindergarten. You live in a neighborhood zoned for XYZ Elementary School. Your ex, although only 5 miles away, and in the same county, lives in a neighborhood zoned for ABC Elementary School. Where does Johnny go to school?
Let’s make this easier before we get to the tough stuff. If Johnny spends more custodial time (overnights) with either parent, then that parent is deemed to have residential custody, and, therefore Johnny would go to school in that parent’s school district. Similarly, if one parent has sole legal custody or tie breaking authority, then that parent would have the right to select his/her school district. But, if everything is equal, it becomes much more challenging.
The first thing you should do is raise the question early with your ex. The more time you have to discuss the issue, the better. Perhaps you even schedule mediation to see if you can work it out. Fortunately, if you cannot work it out, many counties in Maryland offer a lesser-known way to resolve the situation, which can be thought of as a “last resort.” That “last resort” option requires one of the parents to raise the issue with the court in the summer prior to school beginning. Normally, such a filing would take months to be heard by the court, but, many counties have a “school docket” that provides for very short, but immediate hearings, where the court will determine which party has the right to select the school. While these types of short hearings provide a resolution, it truly should be considered a last resort, because what often ends up happening is that a complete stranger decides who gets to pick the school after only hearing from the parties for an hour. That hour long hearing may result in determining where your child goes to school for many years to come. So, while it is helpful to know that this process is available when necessary, it is almost always best to talk to your co-parent and try to figure out what is best for Johnny together.