Pre-School Disputes – Who Chooses and Who Pays?
Education is crucial to any child’s future, and parents work hard to make sure that children have every opportunity to excel. New Jersey has many laws that emphasize the importance of education, including laws providing for parents being required to pay for their children’s college education after divorce. A more murky area can be pre-school. The issue of who is required to pay for pre-school and who gets to choose the pre-school is a common issue for parents following divorce or separation. A case called Madison v. Davis addresses these issues.
In this case, the parties were divorced in 2013 and had a three-year-old child. At the time of the divorce, the parties agreed that the child would attend a particular pre-school and would share the costs associated with the pre-school. The parties had joint legal custody of the child. Notably, the order did not limit the mother to enrolling the child in a particular pre-school. Just a few months after the entry of the final decree, the mother switched the child to a new pre-school, stating it was best for the child because the new pre-school offered swimming classes. The father disagreed with this characterization, stating that the mother switched the pre-school solely because the director of the initial pre-school allowed the father to sign the child out of school one day without the mother’s authorization. The father ultimately brought a motion demanding that the mother immediately re-enroll the child in the first pre-school. The case eventually worked its way to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which established a seven step process for determining who gets to decide the child’s preschool:
1) The parent who is the child’s primary care taker will be able to decide where the child attends pre-school
2) The selection must be reasonable, based on location, cost, and educational content;
3) The primary caretaker must provide notice to the other parent in a reasonable amount of time of the change in enrollment;
4) The other parent has the right to file a motion with the court asking that the child be re-enrolled in the first school, but he or she will have the burden to prove that the new school in an unreasonable choice;
5) The other parent must show that there is a more reasonable alternative to the new school;
6) The judge may override the primary parent’s choice of pre-school if the judge finds the decision is unreasonable; and
7) The judge may award attorneys’ fees if a parent is acting unreasonably.
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