Most parents would agree that there are few parenting decisions as important as those affecting the child’s education. It is so important that many couples plan their home purchases around living in the “right” school zone. After divorce, however, those same parents may move into separate neighborhoods in separate school zones. To each parent, the “right” school then becomes the one in their respective school zone and a potential problem presents itself. Which parent chooses the children’s school? Which parent decides when the child starts school?
Legal Custody, Joint Legal Custody and Sole Legal Custody
“Legal custody” involves having basic legal responsibility for a child and making major decisions regarding the child, including the child’s health, education, and religious upbringing: sole legal custody vests this right with one parent, while joint legal custody vests this right with both parents. Rivero v. Rivero, 216 P.3d 213 (Nev. 2009). In Nevada, most parents are granted joint legal custody, regardless of the physical custody arrangement. Joint legal custody requires that the parents be able to cooperate, communicate, and compromise to act in the best interest of the child. Mosley v. Figliuzzi, 113 Nev. 51, 60-61, 930 P.2d 1110, 1116 (1997). In a joint legal custody situation, the parents must consult with each other to make major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing- a requirement that is usually set forth in the Decree of Divorce. If the parents reach an impasse, they may ask the Court to make the decision for them. I’ve witnessed Judges explain to litigants that these sorts of decisions should not be decided by the court- no Judge wants to parent your child for you. The parents, who know their child better than anyone else, should make such important decisions like where the child goes to school and when they begin their education. Unfortunately, divorced parents often refuse to effectively communicate and take an alternative position for the sole purpose of alienating their ex-spouse- rather than what is in their child’s best interests.
Don’t Let The Courts Make Decisions for Your Child
If you are practicing true co-parenting, you should be able to work out these kinds of issues by putting yourself in the child’s shoes.
- How ready is your child for school?
- Which school is the child used to?
- To which school does the child’s friends go?
- How long will your child have to spend in the car to get to and from each school based on the custody schedule?
- To which school do her siblings and step-siblings go?
- How inconvenient is your choice for the other parent?- after all, both parents have the right to be actively involved with your child’s education.
- If your child is special needs, which school offers programs that will help your child succeed?
- What will your child’s before and after school time look like under either scenario?
If you are truly coming from a place of love for your child, these are the questions you should be asking yourself in order to ensure that her best interests are being met. If the dispute is about control, however, you may be taking an alternative position just to spite your ex-spouse- something that is never in the best interests of your child.
It may very well be that your ex is completely unreasonable and Court intervention is necessary. If your ex-spouse refuses to cooperate or communicate regarding these important issues, you may want to request mediation at the family court in lieu of, or prior to, a formal court hearing.
From Your Child’s Perspective
For parents who cannot seem agree on anything, one possible resolution recognized by the Nevada Supreme Court is to give one parent decision-making authority regarding certain areas or activities of the child’s life like education or healthcare, and the other parent make other decisions, like religious upbringing or extracurricular activities. As a parent, however, I cannot imagine being told by a Judge that I have no say with respect to any particular aspect of my child’s life. It seems the better resolution would be to take a step back and figure out, from the child’s perspective, what makes the most sense. That is what co-parenting is all about.
Jessica H. Anderson
Reno Family Law Attorney