My school’s better than your school! Why this might matter in your custody case.
Mom lives in a great school district. The children enjoy top-notch teachers, health-conscious lunch menus and a full array of inter-scholastic sports and clubs. The school “resource center” has a team of highly trained after-school tutors to help children with computer skills and test preparation. The school band, the choir, and the cheerleader squad are among the best in the country.
Dad lives in a decent school district too, but the state allocates far fewer dollars per student to his district than to Mom’s district. In fact, many of the textbooks in Dad’s district are outdated, and many of the teachers – while loyal and dedicated – lack advanced teaching degrees and specialty certifications that are common in Mom’s district.
Does this matter? It might. Judges do not decide who wins a child custody case based only on who lives in the better school district. But the quality of a district, and its particular offerings to particular students may have a genuine impact on the outcome of a case. For example, a district which provides extensive support services and trained personnel to assist disabled students (and which goes beyond the legal requirements), may be the preferred choice for a wheelchair-bound child, especially if that child has made extraordinary progress within that district. A district that provides advanced math courses for an exceptionally gifted math student may prevail over a district that offers only a standard fare of geometry, algebra, and trigonometry courses. A district which provides one-on-one training for a piano prodigy who performs in school concerts could be the preferred choice as well.
In preparing for a custody trial or a contested motion hearing, parents and their lawyers should always consider the schools. Compare the schools where the custodial parent lives to the schools where the non-custodial parent lives. Consider the impact of certain school programs on the particular children in question. How does the curriculum rank? How do the teachers compare? What about specialized services, extra-curricular activities, state funding per-student? How safe are the physical facilities? What’s the dropout rate? The college acceptance rate? The average SAT score? The number of Merit Scholars? How is the school classified in terms of interscholastic sports? Does the district offer Advanced Placement courses, and if so, in what areas? How well-established is the school district’s guidance counseling department? Its vocational training program? Its special education program? Does the district have up-to-date textbooks and technology? All of these questions, and many more, can paint a picture for a judge that helps the court make the appropriate child custody ruling.