Monday, 06 May 2019 16:47

School Choice and Custody

 

Divorced or separated parents often have difficulty agreeing on issues related to their children.  School choice is an important issue in custody cases that is often in dispute.  Disagreement as to school choice can involve public school versus public school, public school versus private school, public school versus parochial school, or private school versus parochial school.  It is imperative that parents know and understand the law in Pennsylvania with respect to custody and school-related litigation.  Ideally, parents should make every effort to work together to co-parent in the best interest of their children and reach an agreement as to which school their children will attend.  Doing so will minimize stress and conflict for all involved, most importantly children.  Not surprisingly, such compromise can be very challenging for divorced or separated parents.

The Pennsylvania child custody statute defines physical custody as “[t]he actual physical possession and control of a child” and legal custody as “[t]he right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions.”  See 23 Pa.C.S. Section 5322(a).

The Pennsylvania Code addresses admission to public schools and provides “[w]hen the parents reside in different school districts due to separation, divorce or other reason, the child may attend school in the district of residence of the parent with whom the child lives for a majority of the time, unless a court order or court approved custody agreement specifies otherwise.  If the parents have joint custody and time is evenly divided, the parents may choose which of the two school districts the child will enroll for the school year.”  See 22 Pa. Code Section 11.11(a)(1).

Pennsylvania courts generally award custody on a 50/50 basis.  As such, the typical custodial arrangement is shared physical custody and shared legal custody.  Parents who exercise shared legal custody of their children have the right to make education-related decisions on their behalf.  Education-related decisions include school choice, or where the children will attend school.  Since most parents exercise shared legal custody of their children, they must agree on school choice.

Pennsylvania law permits a school-age child to attend the public school of the district in which the child resides.  If one parent exercises primary physical custody then the children may attend the school district in which the primary custodial parent resides.  If both parents exercise shared physical custody then the children may attend the school district in which either custodial parent resides.  Conflict often arises as the law does not grant exclusive decision-making authority to either parent in this situation. 

When there is a dispute among parents regarding school choice, and they are unable to reach an agreement, one of the parents must seek court intervention.  The court will make a determination as to where the children should attend school by considering the evidence presented by both parents in light of the overall goal of serving the best interest of the children.  Relevant evidence includes, but is not limited to, school ranking (curriculum, standardized test scores, and crime rates), school location (distance between the school and each parents’ residence), child’s educational needs and academic performance (report cards and progress reports), child’s participation in sports and other extra-curricular activities, child’s preference (depending on the age and maturity of the child), and school tuition (if applicable).

Divorced or separated parents who know that there is a dispute as to school choice and that court intervention is likely necessary, should consult with an attorney who specializes in custody litigation.  It is critical to avoid delay when dealing with the issue of school choice in custody cases.

Published in AMM Blog

The divorce is final. No more deadlines to meet, papers to file or waiting time for all of it to be over. Now that the hard part is behind you, it is time for a fresh start. However, there might be a few things remaining for you to do before you can officially move on to the next chapter.

The following is a checklist of things that you might still need to do after your divorce is finalized:

  • Review your divorce decree and create a list of things that you and your former spouse still need to satisfy. It could help if you create a calendar to visualize when certain things are due such as alimony/child support payments or when certain things are scheduled to terminate.

  • Divide investment assets and retirement plans according to the terms of the divorce settlement agreement. Dividing a 401(k) or pension will require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). A QDRO is a court order telling the administrators of the retirement plan or the 401(k) how to divide the account. Most QDROs need to be drafted by an attorney or a CPA, signed by you and the former spouse, filed with the court and signed by a judge. If you are the recipient of a portion of your former spouse’s retirement account and you need the QDRO, it is imperative that you follow-up with your attorney to ensure the implementation of the QDRO is done in a timely fashion.

  • Update all beneficiary designations with your workplace retirement plans, investment accounts, retirement accounts, trusts, annuities, life insurance, bank accounts, credit cards and any other place you might have listed your former spouse as a beneficiary.

  • Obtain your own insurance coverage for your health, automobile, home and life insurance.

  • Review your credit report to cancel any joint credit cards and close any joint accounts. Also, look through your credit report for any joint debts that you were not aware of.

  • Update your estate planning documents including your will, any trusts, durable and health care power of attorneys.  If you never had a will, this is a good time to consider making one.

  • Change your emergency contacts with your workplace, doctors, health club, etc.

  • If you changed your name back to your maiden name, you will need to notify different agencies. Most importantly, you will need to change your name on your social security card, passport and your driver’s license. You should also consider changing your name on your social media accounts. 

  • Consider changing your passwords to any emails or online accounts (i.e. Paypal, Facebook, etc.) that you might have shared the access information with your former spouse.  Confirm that your spouse isn’t either a signer or authorized user on any of your online accounts.

  • After the divorce, your financial circumstances have likely changed. You should consider developing, by yourself or with the help of a professional, a new financial plan for your new life.

Getting these things done might seem a burden now, after all you have been through, but it is necessary to avoid trouble later on.  It is better that you go through this checklist and handle these issues as soon as your divorce is finalized to prevent possible future complications.

Once these things are done, you get to close that chapter and enjoy your new life with no worries about unhandled matters left over from the divorce.

Published in AMM Blog

As family law attorneys and parties to custody orders can attest, shared custody and co-parenting arrangements are often fraught with ongoing tensions, stress and conflict.  Using the court system to litigate smaller disagreements in the aftermath of a custody order is inefficient, costly and time-consuming.  In addition to the burden it places on the Court system, it is a strain on not only the parents, but most importantly, the children who are subject to the order.  Fortunately, a common sense alternative is soon returning which can mitigate some of the strife of custody disputes in the future.

On March 1, 2019, the Parenting Coordination program, which was terminated in May 2013, is being reinstated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The rule allows the Court to appoint a parenting coordinator to resolve parenting issues arising from the final custody order issued in the case. The rule clearly establishes that parenting coordination is not intended for every case. Coordinators will not be appointed where there is a protection from abuse order in effect between the parties to the custody action, a finding by the Court that a party has been a victim of domestic violence by a party to the custody action during the case or within 36 months of the filing of the custody action or where a party has been the victim of a personal injury crime.

A parenting coordinator will be appointed for a period not to exceed 12 months; however, this may be extended. The rule also sets certain qualifications that must be met prior to the coordinator’s appointment. Once appointed, the parenting coordinator will have the authority to recommend resolutions to the court on specific custody related issues including, but not limited to: deciding on locations and conditions for custody exchanges; temporary variations of the custody schedule due to special or unique events and circumstances; and any school-related issues.

There are, however, specific areas into which the coordinator is explicitly prohibited from making any decisions such as: changing legal or primary physical custody; changing the custody schedule (a permanent change, rather than a “temporary” one); changing the child’s residence or their relocation; financial issues; major decisions affecting the health, education or religion of the child; and any issues limited by the appointing judge. 

Under the new rule, after giving the parties or their counsel the appropriate notice and the opportunity to be heard on the issue(s), the coordinator submits to the court, and serves copies on the parties or their counsel, a written summary and recommendation within two days after hearing from the parties on the issues. An objecting party has five days from the service of the summary and recommendation to file a petition appealing the coordinator’s recommendations on all or specific issues. If neither party appeals the recommendation, the court undertakes one of the following options: approve the recommendation and make it an order of court; approve the recommendation in part and hold a hearing on the remaining issue(s); remand the recommendation back to the coordinator for more specific information; decline to enter the recommendation as an order and conduct a hearing on the issues. If a timely objection is made and a hearing is required, the recommendation will become an interim order pending the hearing and issuance of a further order by the court.

Custody matters are typically the most high-conflict and costly type of family law cases. By reintroducing the amended parenting coordination rule, the Supreme Court has returned a functional tool to the courts, attorneys and litigants to expedite custody disputes and reduce stress and costs for all parties involved. The hope is that this additional tool will assist all parties involved in achieving the best interests of the children in custody cases.

Published in AMM Blog

It seems that Labor Day has just come and gone, but the snow is already moving in and the holiday season will be here before we know it.  You have already transitioned the children from summer vacation into another school year, hopefully without too much stress.  While it can be hard to focus on the details of the season, if you have minor children and a custody agreement or order, it is time to take a look at your custody documents  and give some thought to what lies ahead in the next month and a half.   Prior to scheduling family dinners, holiday celebrations and travel, it is important to see what the holiday schedule is for this year.  Which days of the holidays are your children with you, what times are they with you, and who is responsible for transporting the children?  It is important that you know the answers to all of these questions.  Take out your custody agreement or order now and look through the schedule for Thanksgiving through New Year’s.  If you have questions, now is the time to ask your attorney, not on Thanksgiving morning.  We all know that a lot of advance planning occurs for the holidays, and family gatherings are scheduled.  If it is important to you that your children celebrate with you and your extended family, you want to be sure to make your plans around when you have physical custody of the children.  The last thing that you want to do is put your children in the middle of a dispute and have them miss plans with either parent that they were looking forward to.  Knowing the details of the holiday schedule now will enable you to make plans based upon the custody schedule and keep everyone happy, which should result in a more peaceful holiday for you.    

Published in AMM Blog

 

Going back to school can be an exciting and overwhelming experience for children and parents alike.  For divorced or separated parents, this time can be fraught with challenges which cause stress and conflict for all involved, most importantly children.  We advise our family law clients that it is important to make a conscientious effort to put their differences aside and co-parent in the best interest of their children.  Successful co-parenting, including communication between parents, is critical in helping children succeed in school, and contributes to their overall sense of well-being and security – a win-win for everyone.   

Parents who exercise shared legal custody of their children must agree on school selection and extra-curricular activities prior to enrollment.  Before the first day of school, parents should develop and implement a unified parenting plan to provide their children with stability, consistency, and routine.   The unified parenting plan should include the following:  

  • Create and synchronize a parenting calendar, such as Google Calendar, to share important information, including the custodial schedule, the school schedule, and the extra-curricular activity schedule.
     
  • Complete and/or update the school enrollment paperwork, the school emergency contact list, and the school portal registration, and include both parents’ names and contact information.  This will ensure that both parents receive school notifications and school records, including report cards with grades.

  • Share the responsibility and the cost of all back-to-school related expenses, including clothing and supplies.

  • Attend all school related activities, including back-to-school nights and parent-teacher conferences.

  • Meet with the teachers, the principal, the guidance counselor, and the coaches and inform them of the current custody order and schedule.

Working together to co-parent and demonstrate a united front will require patience, tolerance, compromise, and coordination, but, in the long run, the joint effort will greatly reduce back to school custody issues which can be costly, frustrating, and painful for children and parents.

Published in AMM Blog

Blogger Bios

  • Alan Wandalowski Alan Wandalowski
    Alan concentrates his practice in Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Elder Law, Estate…
  • Bill MacMinn Bill MacMinn
    Bill concentrates his practice in the area of litigation, including Commercial Litigation,…
  • Elaine T. Yandrisevits Elaine T. Yandrisevits
    As an estate planning attorney, Elaine Yandrisevits is committed to guiding individuals…
  • Elizabeth J. Fineman Elizabeth J. Fineman
    Elizabeth Fineman concentrates her practice on domestic relations matters and handles a…
  • Gabriel Montemuro Gabriel Montemuro
    Gabe’s practice focuses on litigation, including commercial litigation, personal injury, estate and…
  • Jamie M. Jamison Jamie M. Jamison
    Jamie Jamison is a supportive, knowledgeable advocate to clients experiencing the challenges…
  • Jessica A. Pritchard Jessica A. Pritchard
    Jessica A. Pritchard, focuses her practice exclusively in the area of family…
  • Joanne Murray Joanne Murray
    Joanne concentrates her practice in the areas of Business Law, Business Transactions,…
  • John Trainer John Trainer
    John’s concentrates his legal practice in estate planning, estate administration and elder…
  • Mariam Ibrahim Mariam Ibrahim
    Mariam Ibrahim is dedicated to helping clients and their families navigate the…
  • Michael Klimpl Michael Klimpl
    Michael’s practice areas include Real Estate, Municipal Law, Zoning and Land Use, Employment…
  • Michael W. Mills Michael W. Mills
    Mike is devoted to helping businesses build value and improve working capital,…
  • Patricia Collins Patricia Collins
    Patty has been practicing law since 1996 in the areas of Employment…
  • Stephanie M. Shortall Stephanie M. Shortall
    Throughout her career, Stephanie has developed a practice focused on advising closely…
  • Susan Maslow Susan Maslow
    Sue concentrates her practice primarily in general corporate transactional work and finance…
  • Thomas P. Donnelly Thomas P. Donnelly
    Tom’s practice focuses on commercial litigation and transactions. In litigation, Tom represents…