A new school year will soon begin and some parents will be making decisions regarding which school their child should attend. Where a child attends school is an important decision that can impact the child’s overall development and well-being. Inevitably, parents will have disagreements over where their child should attend school. One parent may want the child enrolled in a small, religious-oriented private school while the other parent wants the child to attend public school. So, which parent has authority to choose where the child attends school?
North Carolina recognizes two forms of child custody: legal custody and physical custody. “Legal custody” refers generally to a parent’s authority to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including those that pertain to a child’s education, healthcare, and religious training. “Physical custody” refers to the actual physical care, custody, and control of a child. By way of example, a court may order, or parents may agree, that both parents should have joint legal custody, and one parent should have primary physical custody with the other parent having secondary physical custody or visitation with the child.
An award of joint legal custody means that both parents share equal responsibility for making major decisions on behalf of the child, including where the child attends school. A parent who has sole legal custody has exclusive authority to make such decisions.
Either parent can initiate legal action requesting that a court with jurisdiction make an initial determination of legal and physical custody of the child. If the parents have an existing court order or child custody agreement that grants the parents joint legal custody, or grants one parent sole legal custody, either parent may file a motion to modify legal custody with the court to change the legal custody.
Courts have long recognized that ongoing disputes between parents can have a damaging effect on the child. As such, when parents have demonstrated an inability to effectively communicate and reach agreements on important decisions affecting the child, a judge may determine that it is in a child’s best interest to provide one parent with unilateral authority to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including those pertaining to the child’s health, education, and religious upbringing. It should be noted, however, that child support may need to be reviewed if payment of private school tuition is also at issue.
If you are experiencing ongoing conflicts regarding child custody or child related matters, you may benefit from having a consultation with an experienced family law attorney. Daphne Edwards represents clients in a wide array of family related legal matters, including child custody and child support. She can advise you of legal options that may be available and make recommendations based on your specific circumstances.