Dear Cassie: I am divorced and have primary residential custody of our children. Our children are in the third and first grade. Given some educational concerns that I have, I want to enroll our children in private school next year (they are now in public school). My ex-husband doesn’t agree. He hasn’t really involved himself in the big decisions regarding their lives, so does he get to object now? -K.M.
Dear K.M.: I am unsure of the terms of your Judgment of Divorce or Marital Settlement Agreement as it relates to the legal custody designations for the children. You should understand that “legal custody” refers to the power to make important decisions regarding the health, education, and welfare of your children. Where a child attends school is such an important decision. If you and your ex-spouse share joint legal custody (as opposed to you having sole legal custody of the children), then where your children attend school is a decision requiring the input of both parties; it is not something that you alone can decide.
That said, a joint legal custody designation does not authorize one party or another to take unreasonable positions which are not in the children’s best interests. You need to be prepared to address specifically why it is that you believe a change in the children’s schools is necessary and in their best interests. For example, perhaps the private school can provide a form of specialized education necessary to address your children’s unique needs. Keep in mind that a temporary issue – such as a problem with a past teacher who will no longer be teaching your child – could fall short in terms of being a basis to modify the children’s school arrangements.
You should also keep in mind that there is a cost component to your children’s matriculation in private school. As it appears that the status quo of your family was not to incur such costs, the introduction of this new cost for the family is a factor that will need to be considered in the resolution of the ultimate issue.
As with nearly all family law issues, a resolution of this particular issue is fact-sensitive, meaning that it will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your case.
If you are dealing with issues involving the selection of schooling for your children, you should seek the advice of matrimonial counsel.
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Cassie Murphy is a divorce and family law Partner with the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy, with offices in Red Bank and Woodbridge.