As we approach another fall, we have the beginning of school. Sadly, in my divorce practice, instead of "school days, school days, good old golden rule days", to quote a song from many, many years ago, the phrase that keeps going through my mind, is "school wars, school wars, why can't parents stay out of court?"
In this past week, I have had three emergency motions where parents, after a divorce, have been fighting over where the children are to go to school. Some of these cases involved issues between home schooling and public schooling. Others have been involving parochial school versus public school, and others involve one school district or one elementary school in the same school district versus another elementary school. What is sad is that people, for some reason, cannot move on.
I have said in earlier articles that there is a legal divorce and a psychological divorce. If the psychological divorce has not occurred, then people will continue to battle -- and one of the main battlegrounds here in Michigan is over school.
There are some ways to avoid school wars, but even these are not foolproof. In some high-conflict cases, there will be a parenting coordinator appointed. The role of the parenting coordinator is to work with the parents or former husbands and wives to handle issues including religious upbringing, school, extra-curricular activities, parenting time schedules, etc. A court order for a parenting coordinator can give the parenting coordinator authority to mediate, to work with the parties, and to make decisions with the understanding that the decision is not a court order, but will be weighed heavily by the court. In fact, in one of the cases, the parenting coordinator's order states that the parent challenging the parenting coordinator's ruling has the burden of proving to the court why the parenting time coordinator's written recommendation should not be followed.
It is sad that people have to litigate and fight over all of these issues. Why do they do this? Let me cite some of my thoughts on this. As I stated earlier, often it is a matter of a parent refusing to let go of the marriage because he or she is angry, hurt, or is incapable of psychologically moving on.
A second reason is that one parent or the other has to be in control. I have found that often the parent who is challenging the schooling is someone who has to be in control, and will not let the other parent "win", even though it may be in the best interests of the child or children that the other parent's school of choice makes sense.
A third reasons is the idea that one parent has to win, and that if it is not a victory, then he or she loses face.
A fourth reason is vindictive behavior and the attitude that you must punish the other parent no matter what, losing all sight of what is best for the child or children.
Over the years I have tried several school cases, and there literally are school wars. Sometimes they are not only triggered by one or the other spouse, but often a new relationship or remarriage can create the battleground for a school war as well. People will spend thousands of dollars and numerous hours and days in court, over where a child is going to school. This can be over daycare, preschool, kindergarten, as well as schooling at every level, including debates between public and private, and parochial and public schools. Where does it end?
To me court should be the last resort. People should try mediation, parenting coordinators, or any other way to stay out of court. Remember, that once you go to court, you will be saying things that are going to be leaving even more lasting scars. Remember, it is not what is best for the parents, but what is in the best interests of the children. What are your thoughts?
By: HENRY S. GORNBEIN
Family Law Attorney & Legal Correspondent
40900 Woodward Avenue, Ste. 111
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304-5116
248/594-3444; Fax 248/594-3222
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