Following a divorce (or custody cases where the parties were never married) parents often disagree about where their children should go to school. In most cases, one parent simply wants to relocate for one reason or another, which necessarily means that the children will have to be enrolled in a new school district if the children relocate as well.
So, what happens in this scenario?
This can be a difficult issue. If the parties were granted “joint legal custody” (which is very common and presumed to be in the best interests of the children), by law, both parents have an equal say when it comes to matters involving health, education, and religious upbringing of their children.
This means that with joint legal custody, one party cannot unilaterally change the children’s school district over the objection of the other parent. This is true even if the relocating parent’s residence has been designated the children’s “primary residence” by Court Order.
This issue was recently litigated in the Minnesota Court of Appeals**. The parties were granted joint legal custody, but father’s residence was designated the children’s “primary residence” (a term not defined by statute) by their custody order. Father relocated, and relied on the primary residence designation as his authority for unilaterally changing the children’s school district.
As a joint legal custodian, mother objected, and argued that she has an equal say in where the children attend school. The Court of Appeals agreed with Mother. Father could not unilaterally change the children’s school district over the objection of mother.
Whether it’s a primary residence designation, or an award of “sole physical custody,” many people believe that such titles bestow certain decision-making powers upon them which which they just don’t have. This case is a good example of that.
** See Wolf v. Oestreich, Minnesota Court of Appeals; A20-0235
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