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Child Custody and School Selection: Who Gets to Decide in Oregon?

One of the most sensitive and impactful decisions for divorced or separated parents revolves around their child’s education. In Oregon, as in many states, the matter of school selection within child custody is complex. If you’re preparing to choose your child’s school after receiving a custody order, you should be aware that the decision may not be as simple as it seems, especially if you have a joint order.

However, choosing your child’s school doesn’t have to be an ordeal. Let’s break down how the right to make decisions for your kids’ education is awarded in parenting orders and what you should know to make the best choice possible.  

Oregon School Decisions: Legal Custody and Its Implications

To navigate the decision-making process for a minor’s education, it’s essential first to understand the concept of legal custody. In Oregon, legal custody refers to the right to make major decisions about a child’s welfare, including education, healthcare, and religious upbringing.

There are two types of legal custody arrangements:

  • Joint Legal Custody: This is when both parents share the decision-making responsibilities for the children. Oregon courts often prefer this arrangement as it encourages both parents to remain actively involved in the major aspects of their kid’s life. However, joint legal custody requires a high level of communication and cooperation between the parents, and it may not be suitable in all cases, especially where there’s a history of domestic violence or an inability to co-parent effectively.
  • Sole Legal Custody: In this scenario, only one parent has the authority to make significant decisions about the minor’s welfare. This arrangement is usually considered when joint custody is not in the best interest of the child, possibly due to factors like abuse, neglect, or when one parent is absent or unable to participate in parenting.

In determining custody, the court’s primary consideration is the best interest of the child. Factors influencing this decision include the child’s age, emotional and developmental needs, the child’s relationship with each parent, the ability of each parent to provide for the minor, and any history of abuse or neglect.

If parents can reach an agreement on their order, the court usually honors this agreement as long as it serves the children’s best interests. In cases where parents agree on joint legal custody, they must submit a parenting plan outlining how they will make decisions together.

If parents cannot agree, the court will decide. The judge will consider various factors, including each parent’s willingness to facilitate a relationship between the child and the other parent and the ability of parents to cooperate in decision-making.

Regardless of the type of order, both parents generally have the right to access important information about their children. This includes medical records, education records, and other significant reports, even if one parent has sole legal custody.

The Role of School Selection in Custody Agreements

In cases of joint legal custody, both parents have equal rights to make decisions about their child’s education. This means that school selection should ideally be a collaborative process, with both parents discussing and agreeing on the best option for their children.

Parents need to consider several factors, including the quality of education, proximity to both parents’ homes, the child’s social and emotional needs, and any special educational requirements they may have.

If parents in joint custody cannot agree on a school, they may need to seek mediation or, as a last resort, go to court. A judge can decide on the child’s behalf, focusing on the their best interest.

In situations where one parent has sole legal custody, that parent has the primary authority to make decisions regarding school selection. However, the non-custodial parent still typically retains the right to be informed and to voice their opinions. Even with sole orders, though, it’s generally considered best practice for the custodial parent to keep the non-custodial parent informed and consider their views regarding educational decisions.

Factors Considered in School Selection Disputes

When disputes over school selection reach the courts, several factors are considered before a ruling is issued, including:

  • Child’s Best Interest: This is the paramount consideration. What benefits the child academically, socially, and emotionally will be at the forefront of any decision, whether made by the parents or the court.
  • Stability and Continuity: The importance of maintaining continuity in the child’s education, such as staying in the same school system or following a particular educational path, is often considered.
  • Parental Proximity and Convenience: How close each parent lives to the proposed school and the practicality of transporting the children to and from school plays a role, especially in joint custody situations.
  • School Quality and Special Programs: The quality of education and the availability of special programs or resources to meet the child’s unique needs can influence the decision.
  • Child’s Preference: Depending on the minor’s age and maturity, their preference might be considered.

Sometimes, the choice of school may necessitate a change in the custody arrangement, particularly if the chosen school significantly affects the parenting time or logistics of one parent. Courts will look at these choices with particular care since it is against the spirit of the law to use a child’s education to prevent one parent from spending time with them. 

Given the complexities involved, it’s often best for parents to consult with family law attorneys to understand their rights and to navigate any disputes or modifications to parenting agreements.

Experienced Legal Help for Child Custody and Order Modification

In Oregon, the decision about a child’s school selection in the context of child custody is a complex issue that requires careful consideration and cooperation between parents. Whether through joint decision-making in joint custody situations or single-handed decision-making in sole custody cases, the child’s best interest remains the guiding principle. Parents facing such decisions should seek legal counsel to navigate these challenges effectively. At Regele Law, LLC, we can help. Our experienced family law attorneys are focused on helping you achieve the best possible outcome for your entire family. We encourage you to get in touch to learn how we can help you navigate the complex waters of educational decisions in joint custody.