Who Decides Where The Kids Go To School?

By Molly Murphy

Attorney, Cordell & Cordell

As we are heading into the heart of summer, many clients are wondering where their child will be attending school in the Fall semester. I have several clients who are going through this same decision process right now.

If you are in the middle of litigation on where your child is going to school in the Fall, I would suggest you speak to your attorney. However, if you already have a court order in place to decide your decisions, you at least have a starting point.

In Missouri, where I practice, there are three types of custody for children. The first two are physical and legal custody. If you share legal custody with your ex then you do have an equal say in where your child will be attending school in the Fall. The third type of custody tells us where your child will go if you and your ex cannot decide on the school together. The third type of custody is residential parent. One parent is usually named the residential parent.  Said parent is the parent whose address is used for the child to attend school. This means the child will attend school at the school district or specific school in said school district that the residential parent lives in.

Can your child move school districts if it is within the court-ordered limits? Every parenting plan has different language in it that is tailored to your situation and your child. If the parenting plan indicates that a child can go to school within a certain mile radius or in several different school district options, then you can consider a change of school for your child.

Once you have picked your school, you need to do some research. School changes can be a hot button issue for even the most easygoing of ex’s. Find out if this school change will cause a change in physical custody. Find out if it will change your child’s daycare, friends or routine. I would also suggest getting statistics on the school to share with your ex. If it is a private school, be prepared for your ex to refuse to help pay for it.  Be ready to sit down with all of your information to speak to your ex. And before making such a big decision, remember to talk to your child. Always ask yourself if this is in the best interests of your child. If your ex will not agree to the change, the residential parent’s school district and grade school, middle school or high school will prevail.

What happens if the residential parent wants to change the school? If you agree with the change then it works for everyone. However, what if this school is farther from where you live? Who is responsible for the additional driving?  If the driving is done during your custody time then you are responsible. I would advise that prior to agreeing to any school change to examine your different options. Look into if this works for your schedule, if your child can take a bus, if you are going to have to start using before and after care, etc.  If any of these are real concerns of yours then you need to compromise with your ex. One option is to agree to the school change if he/she agrees to pay for a portion of the before or after care you will incur.

As a parent your first obligation is to your child. Always keep your child’s best interests in mind. If you and your ex cannot agree on a school, even with a residential parent designation, then consider hiring an attorney to represent what you believe is in your child’s best interests.


Margaret “Molly” P. Murphy is an Associate Attorney in the Arnold, Missouri office of Cordell & Cordell where she practices exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Ms. Murphy is admitted to practice law in the state of Missouri. Ms. Murphy was born and raised in St. Louis. She received her B.A. in Political Science and English Language and Literature in 1998 from the University of Tulsa where she graduated magna cum laude. Ms. Murphy received her Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2001.

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