Who Decides Where a Child Goes to School After Divorce in New Jersey: A Legal Perspective

July 25, 2023

As a divorced parent enrolling a child at school, there are several things to be aware of that you would not have had to think about while married or in a relationship.

Regarding family disputes, the school is not there to act as a go-between or conciliator for the parents. It is best to resolve all disputes through negotiation with a mediator, child custody lawyer, or in court.

The school acts with the child’s best educational interests in mind, but the child’s education is primarily the responsibility of their parents.

Who Has the Legal Right to Decide on a Child’s Schooling Post-Divorce in New Jersey?

Students in class

Can a parent remove a child from school? In New Jersey, the legal principle governing decisions about a child’s upbringing, including schooling, after divorce is called “joint legal custody.”

Under New Jersey law, parental responsibility is shared equally between parents unless a court order specifies otherwise. That means either parent can make decisions about the schooling of a child.

This shared responsibility means both parents have a legal right to be involved in major long-term decisions about their child’s life, including their education. Parents should consult each other and agree about the child’s school.

However, disputes can arise, and if parents cannot agree, they may seek assistance through family dispute resolution services. If an agreement still can’t be reached, either parent can apply to the Family Court for orders relating to the child’s schooling.

The court will decide based on what it considers to be the child’s best interests. Factors considered may include the child’s current and future educational needs, the child’s views (depending on their age and maturity), the practicality of the proposed school (such as distance, cost, and any special programs relevant to the child’s needs), and the likely impact of any changes in the child’s circumstances, among others.

Divorced Parent Enrolling a Child at School

Do both parents need to sign school enrollment? Most schools only require one parent to sign to enroll a child in school.

Parents should know whether they can provide the school with copies of court orders that affect the interaction of one or both parents with the school.

Court orders generally cannot be shared with other people, so you will need special permission from the court to share these orders with the school.

How Does a Single Parent Manage Enrollment in School?

Enrolling child in school

Can a parent change a child’s school without the other parent’s permission?

Issues may arise if a divorced parent enrolls a child at school when the child is already registered at and attending another school.

This usually occurs when one parent moves to a different location during a dispute. This enrollment can occur if the other parent is not responsible for education.

However, if the other parent does have a right to contribute to deciding where the child should go to school and does not want the child to change schools, the school principal can use the short-term and part-time attendance provisions.

This should give the parents enough time to resolve their dispute about the child’s school by agreement or through the family court.

Accessing Information From the School

School Books with apple on top

A school can usually provide information to the non-enrolling parent about their child’s enrolment as long as there are no court orders that would make this unlawful.

Contact details for the child or one of their parents, including emergency contact details, cannot be provided to the other parent without the first parent’s consent.

During family disputes, relatives—including siblings, grandparents, and other extended family members—may seek information about a child from the child’s school. Without the consent of the parent the child lives with, or who has parental responsibility, the school cannot provide other relatives with this information.

If a court order permits, the school may divulge information to other people, law enforcement, and government agencies.

If there are no court orders, parents have equal access to school-held information about their children.

For a divorced parent enrolling a child at school, the school will forward all documentation to their address if the child lives primarily or exclusively with this parent.

Picking Up Children From School

Orders relating to custody often allow custody changeovers at the end of the school day when the next parent to take the child home will pick them up.

If you are a divorced parent enrolling a child at school, it is essential to consider how custody arrangements might impact your relationship with your child’s school.

For example, one parent might drop the child off at school on Friday morning, and the other parent will pick them up on Friday afternoon as the child will stay with them over the weekend.

Picking up child from school

If there are no specific court orders, either parent can pick their child up from school.

However, contact may take place if:

  • The child does not object to seeing the parent
  • No court orders are preventing the contact
  • The communication is to take place at a time that will not interfere with the regular operation of the school
  • There are no concerns for the safety or well-being of the child, any other students, or staff

When a parent whom the child does not live with arrives at the school intending to remove the child from school grounds, this is often a cause for concern.

Without exceptional circumstances, a parent cannot generally take their child away from school during school hours.

The school will refer to court orders or seek the views of the child’s parents.

The school principal will not permit the other parent to remove their child from the school premises if:

  • The parent of the child lives with objects to the removal of the child from school or if they cannot be contacted
  • The child does not want to leave with the parent at the school
  • The child becomes distressed after being told that this parent wants to take them away
  • The school principal has reason to believe that the child’s safety may be at risk if the parent takes them away

The school will then ask the parent to leave the school grounds and resolve the issue with the other parent away from the school.

If the parent refuses any reasonable request to leave or if they become agitated or aggressive, the school can contact the police.

Parental Involvement in School Activities

Parents may attend school activities and be involved if no court orders prevent their participation. Both parents may visit the school to speak to the principal or the child’s teachers.

When there are court orders, the parent they refer to will only be included in school activities if specific demands make their attendance inappropriate.

The school’s primary concern is the prevention of disputes that will impact the regular operation of the school, its events, and its activities or that will put the safety of the child, other students, staff, or parents at risk.

Parents should not expect the school to be a conciliator in family disputes.

However, where appropriate, the school will reasonably make a compromise allowing both parents to participate in school activities.

A divorced parent enrolling a child at school may wish to become involved in a variety of activities at the school, such as parent-teacher association, helping with reading classes, and supervision on excursions.

These activities often bring parents into contact with their child at the school, which may be outside of the contact times allowed for parents who are the subject of court orders.

If court orders such as a final restraining order make the parent’s participation inappropriate, or if the school is genuinely concerned for the child’s safety or the safety of other people, they will deny the parent’s involvement.

However, some contact may not be considered under court orders, such as sitting in the audience during a school performance or seeing the child in the playground while working in the school.

Without specific court orders, the school will not deny the parent’s participation in these activities, as it is incidental contact.

Who Decides Where a Child Goes to School After Divorce?

Are you facing a challenge deciding where your child should go to school post-divorce?

The experienced family law experts at Rigden Lieberman, LLC will guide you through every step. Contact us today and secure your child’s educational future with ease.

By Ronald G. Lieberman

Ronald G. Lieberman is a seasoned attorney with nearly 25 years of experience in all aspects of family/matrimonial law including divorce, child custody, child support, alimony, domestic violence, equitable distribution, college expenses, marital settlement agreements, high-end family and matrimonial litigation, and appellate matters before the Appellate Division.

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Do yourself a favor and hire Alexandra
Alexandra came as a recommendation from an attorney friend and she was spot on. Alexandra kept me informed through every step of the process during such a difficult time in my life. She explained things in detail and always had my best interest in mind, even when I may not have realized it. As my title says, do yourself a favor and hire Alexandra.
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