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Parents Disagree on School Choice — Now What?

Earlier this year the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld a decision to continue to fund the state’s innovative Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program. The ESA enables families who meet certain conditions to choose alternative and supplementary educational opportunities for their children at very little cost. 

The ESA provides a voucher for up to 90 percent of private school, tutoring or educational therapy costs for children with learning disabilities, children who are wards of the state or children who have other special needs. The parents of these children have the option to choose private school or public school or to save a portion of the voucher for college.

Divorced parents share educational decisions

This school choice model is a boon to parents of children with special needs, as it increases the choices of educational models available to families. In some families, however, parents have strong feelings regarding the support of one educational model over another, and if they disagree, it can become a point of contention. 

In Arizona, even divorced parents who do not share physical custody or spend equal amounts of time with their children generally share legal custody — in other words, they share the legal decision-making power. The decision to send a child to one type of school instead of another is one that is usually agreed upon by the parents. If one parent feels strongly about one model or specific school and the other disagrees about this choice, the decision may then be placed in the hands of the court.

When parents can’t agree on a school model

As with any issue related to the health and welfare of a child, a custodial decision, such as school, is determined based on the best interests of the child. If the parents are not able to work out a compromise regarding a school choice, a judge considers the following factors:

  • Educational factors — Which school best meets the child’s educational needs
  • Social factors — Which school contains a population of peers who share cultural, socioeconomic and other values with the child
  • Financial factors — If both parents can comfortably afford the fees
  • Consistency with values of the child’s home — Which school reflects the value system of the home 

It is best for parents and children alike if parents can work together — either alone or in mediation — to make all educational and other parenting decisions.  

A Tucson area family law attorney can help you write a complete and workable parenting plan so you do not have to leave important decisions in the hands of a stranger. Contact Steven C. Weinstein today.

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