Guest Author, Anne Kass, - a retired District Judge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
It's September and once again Family Court is experiencing "School Daze."
Divorced parents are filing lawsuits complaining that the other parent has enrolled the children in a different school than they attended last year without agreement or court permission. Even worse, some lawsuits allege that the children are not enrolled in any school at all because the parents can't agree which school they should attend, and some children are enrolled in two schools at the same time. Then there are a few lawsuits in which the parents are at war about year-round school versus traditional school. We're also having to decide whether parents whose financial lives have been severely damaged by the realities of divorce (having to run two households instead of one) can still afford to send the children to private schools as they did before the divorce.
The worst part about most of these lawsuits is that the parents have waited until the last minute to deal with the problem. That means the children's lives are in a turmoil which, in turn, means that the children will not be able to concentrate on learning, and for some children this school year will be lost.
I find it shocking to hear parents express cavalier attitudes about the importance of school. One parent, who had moved her child in and out of 5 different schools during her kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade years, said, "What's the big deal? A school is a school. They all teach the same stuff." Another mother who was resisting the father's request that their child be returned to the year-round kindergarten he had attended in July and part of August, self-righteously said, "The Court shouldn't make any child change schools. Consistency is important," only to find out that because she (the mother) had moved twice in the last five weeks, the child's school had also been changed twice more. That youngster has attended three different kindergartens in the first 3 months of his educational experience. I can hardly wait to hear this mother criticize the school system when this child does poorly or drops out.
There are a few basic rules of law parents should know:
1. Consistency IS important. A school is more than a building. It is friends and teachers and staff with whom the child feels safe and comfortable so he can invest his time and energy in the hard task of learning.
2. What ever school the children attended last year, they should attend again this year unless BOTH parents agree otherwise.
3. If paying for private school is the problem, lawyers, judges and courts cannot fix it. Private school is often a casualty of divorce economics.
The law presumes that parents will act in their children's best interests. That presumption is total fiction for some parents who are embroiled in divorce.
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