Many parents experience some litigation prior to the entry of a custody order; nearly all parents experience some disagreement about the terms of parenting time. Some parents even experienced the stress of a protracted custody trial.
Contrary to these disputes, parents usually agree to joint legal custody, and when parents are concerned about sharing their decision-making, the court will often order joint legal custody until a problem arises. Joint legal custody disputes are not as common as physical custody or parenting time disputes.
That is, with one exception: parents’ disputes where to enroll their child in school.
A common dispute arises when parents live in different school districts. One parent may exercise slightly more parenting time, but the other parent lives in a far superior school district. What to do?
After the divorce or separation, one parent moves with their baby 45 minutes away from the other parent. Five years later, Kindergarten enrollment arrives, and the question is, where do we enroll?
One parent wants to enroll in the local public school, the other parent wants to enroll in a parochial or charter school. Or, homeschooling versus day school enrollment. What to do?
Parents must agree on school enrollment, or the judge will decide the issue. And maybe surprisingly, that is a fairly involved evidentiary hearing. At this evidentiary hearing, commonly called a Lombardo hearing, the judge will hear testimony and review evidence, not only about the two school options but also about the child’s best interest factors.
If the term “best interest factors” sounds familiar, it’s probably because you recognize it from a child custody and parenting time decision. Unlike a child custody hearing, where the Court must consider all the best interest factors, a Lombardo hearing is different. During a Lombardo hearing, the parents only must address the factors that apply to their school choice dispute.
Even with the limited review of the best interest factors, a Lombardo hearing still requires thorough preparation, and if a school dispute can be avoided, parents are wise to be proactive and address the issue in a timely fashion.
Parents could consider agreeing to a school in their Judgment of Custody or Divorce. Sometimes a small incentive, such as a change in parenting time, may provide a parent with the school of choice for the child and avoid the cost and stress of a Lombardo hearing.
Regardless, if you anticipate a school choice dispute, you should address this with your attorney as quickly as possible. Sometimes it takes months to get a Lombardo hearing.