Apr 03, 2024

Open Enrollment and Joint Decision

A child’s school is one of the most significant decisions a parent can make on behalf of their child. The choice impacts the child’s educational trajectory and usually their overall success. Therefore, many parents who are no longer a couple can have significant disagreements on what they believe is the best school for their child. When parents share joint decision-making, these disagreements can result in costly litigation.

Joint decision-making allocates parents the legal right to make decisions for their children, and most people know it as “legal custody.” When parents have joint decision-making, they must reach an agreement with the other parent before making a major decision for their child. The most common decision-making right allocated to parents is joint decision-making for the child. This is generally true unless there is a legitimate legal reason to exclude one parent from the decision, such as previous abuse towards the co-parent or the child.

The most simplified way to define open enrollment is the process in which parents can enroll a child in a school outside of their designated school district through a universal application process. A parent living in Aurora can choose to enroll their child in a school located in a different school district, such as a school in Littleton. While the process is excellent in theory, it is mainly viewed by the public as a substantially complicated system that provides little guidance to parents and increases conflict. In fact, many parents retain experts or pay to attend classes to learn how to navigate the complicated system because various requirements and deadlines are not commonly known.

Many parents who must co-parent and make decisions jointly are significantly impacted as their desired schools become unavailable as parties try to reach decisions. So, often parents cannot keep their desired school as an option for their child because the application has different deadlines for parents to select a school, and each one provides various opportunities for children if they apply in time, or one parent is forced to make the enrollment decision without an agreement to ensure their child’s access to the school should the parties agree or the court order that particular school.

The open enrollment application is generally the root cause of the conflict between parents because it only permits each child one application in the system and does not permit both parents to submit different applications, even if they live in different districts. The result is that each parent can change any previously selected schools by the other parent. So, the last parent to hit the “submit” button before the deadline generally “wins” the issue as their application will be the final selection for that child. As a result, many separated parents who disagree on the subject of the child’s school only end up in more conflict given how the process unravels.

Rightfully so, many aggrieved parents turn to the courts or other involved professionals such as arbitrators or mediators for help with the issue and potential remedies for the other parent’s perceived bad behaviors. On the other hand, the final selecting parent often feels frustrated that the court or other professionals cannot provide orders or guidance on the issue until after the deadlines have passed. So, if they do not input the selections, even if the court ordered their desired school, it would be impossible for the child to attend.

Sadly, many parents do not realize how the process works or how long it can take, which often results in more unfavorable co-parenting situations and costly litigation.

If you are considering enrolling your child in a different school, moving, or have any other reasons to propose a new school to your co-parent, you should begin that process at least one year before the open enrollment process begins. Often parents find it helpful to engage an education expert to determine the best school for their child and in the unfortunate circumstance that you are forced to litigate the issue, the expert can provide incredibly helpful testimony to the professionals involved. Finally, consult with a family law attorney about the issue to determine the best way to handle the process productively.

Jamie Paine, Senior Associate at Griffiths Law, Jamie is an experienced attorney who devotes her practice to family law, with a focus on issues regarding children.