When parents separate or divorce, it is sometimes difficult to agree on various issues regarding their children. One common area of disagreement has to do with school. Should the child attend private school? Should the child attend a parochial school? A relatively new disagreement that has been emerging is over school districts. The mother may argue that the child should attend the school district where she lives. The father may then argue that the child should attend the school district where he lives. If no agreement can be reached, litigation is sometimes the only option.
However, before a parent can jump to litigation, he or she needs to know what the law says. The first thing to know is that a school age child is entitled to attend the public school of the district in which the child resides. 24 Pa. Code Section 11.11(a)(1) states that when the parents reside in different school district due to separation, divorce or other reason, the child may attend school in the district of residence of the parent with whom the child lives for a majority of the time. What does that mean? That means that the school district of the primary custodian is the school district where the child will attend public school. That seems pretty easy and simple. However, there are no easy solutions to any custody issue.
There has been a recent push towards equally shared physical custody and many parents are exercising this type of arrangement. So, what happens if they live in different school districts? 24 Pa. Code Section 11.11(a)(1) states that "[i]f the parents have joint custody and time is evenly divided, the parents may choose which of the two school districts the child will enroll for the school year." And this is where the fight may be joined.
If one parent resides in a much better school district than the other, then the smart decision is to agree that the child will attend school in the better district. Generally, if you go to court regarding the school, the court will hold that the child should attend the higher-ranked school district. However, proving which is the "better" district often is difficult.
If both parents live in school districts of similar quality, then the decision is more of a toss-up. It may be best for the child to go to school in the district where he or she already knows some of the other students or where the child has been involved in activities before. However, unless the parents agree, it is going to be tough for the court to choose between two school districts of equal caliber.
It is for that reason that many cases regarding the choice of school district end up becoming a fight for primary custody. Once a parent has primary custody, then the child is going to attend school in that parent's school district.
If you are a parent with partial physical custody, you are likely thinking that you have little decision-making power regarding the school district your child attends. You might live in a prominent school district and the other parent might live a school district with some significant deficits. But, because you have partial physical custody, the child cannot attend school in your district, right? Wrong! 24 Pa. Code Section 11.11(a)(1) states that though a child's school district is the one of the parent with which the child primarily resides, that can be altered through a court order or a court-approved custody agreement.
So, a parent with partial physical custody can negotiate with the other parent to agree that the child attend the high-ranking school district, or the partial custody parent can pursue litigation. The courts do take the education of children very seriously. If there is a serious discrepancy in the quality of the school districts, and the parent with partial custody lives in the better district, then that parent has a good case to be made.
If the parent with partial custody and the parent with primary custody live in school districts of equal reputation, then the court is going to have the child attend school in the district where the child primarily resides. When it comes down to it, the determining factor is what is in the best interest of the child. That means giving the child the best education available.