School Choice and Child Custody Laws

Dear Jessica:
My ex-wife just informed me that my daughter is switching schools in the Reno area. Can she do that without my authorization or does that violate child custody laws? I only take my daughter to school every other Monday but the school she is choosing adds another 20 minutes to my commute. Don’t I have any say in this decision? I pay child support every month.


Dear Rick:

School choice, if you have joint legal custody with your ex, the decision about where your child attends school should be a joint one. Neither parent is entitled to unilaterally make these kinds of decisions. If after discussion, you can’t come to an agreement, you’ll have to return to family court to get this worked out. This behavior may indeed violate child custody laws.

Before you bring this legal issue to the court, however, I would attempt to understand why your ex wants to make this move and how your child feels about the issue. If it is in your child’s best interests to change schools or the child has a strong desire to change schools, perhaps that should be your primary focus. If the school is also in the Reno area, it may not be that substantial of an inconvenience.

An experienced divorce attorney or family law attorney will tell you that, in the State of Nevada, a parent’s convenience is not high on the list of concerns that the Judge considers when making this kind of decision.

When the move of schools is to happen is also an issue to consider. Generally, a move to a new school should happen at the beginning of the school year, but there are circumstances that would allow a mid-year move.

If the issue is put to the Judge, the most important factor will be the child’s best interests. The fact that you are the non-custodial parent should not be a primary factor in this inquiry so long as you retain joint legal custody (i.e. decision-making authority). However, children typically attend school in the school zone of the primary custodian since that is the residence where they spend most of their time. So, if your ex has moved to a new school zone and she is the primary physical custodian, it is possible that the court would find that the new school zone of the primary parent is the appropriate zone.

That being said, judges like to maintain the status quo for purposes of the child’s stability. If the decision to move schools is not based on a change of residence in a new school zone or the child’s best interests, then the judge may determine that the child should stay in the initial school zone.

Child support and child custody are entirely separate legal issues in the State of Nevada. Your legal custody rights are the same whether or not you are current with your child support obligations.

You should talk to an experienced attorney and understand all the implications before you make any decisions about whether to bring this issue to the court’s attention. If you do decide to take the issue to court, the vehicle to do so would be a motion for relief regarding the child’s education.

Best of luck to you,
Jessica Anderson
Anderson Keuscher Brachmann

Ms. Anderson has 16 years of experience practicing family law in Reno, Nevada.