Following a divorce, if two parents are designated to have joint custody of a child, which parent gets to make the important decisions? For example, if you share joint custody with your ex-spouse, but you are the primary residential custodian, do you get to make the decision as to which school your child attends? Does your ex-spouse? What happens if you disagree?
The Kentucky Court of Appeals recently addressed this issue in Keeton v. Keith. Following a divorce, the mother had primary custody of the couple's child and was moving from Louisville to Brandenburg, Kentucky. The child attended school in Louisville and the mother, for obvious reasons, wanted the child to attend school closer to where they were going to live. The mother moved and filed a motion with the Meade Circuit Court to change the child’s’ school placement. Father filed a pro se response objecting. Ultimately the Meade Circuit Court ruled that the child would remain in her current school in Jefferson County for the remainder of the school year but would then switch to a school closer to the mother's new residence. Father appealed.
The issue before the Kentucky Court of Appeals was simple: Between joint custodians who have the power to make educational decisions?
The Court pointed out to the parties that, when it comes to a joint custody situation, “both parents possess the rights, privileges, and responsibilities associated with parenting and are expected to consult and participate equally in the child’s upbringing.” Pennington v. Marcum, 266 S.W.3d 759, 764 (Ky. 2008). However, the Court also held that in circumstances where the parents can’t reach an agreement on an issue, the decision will be made by the Court and the Court will make the decision based on what it finds to be in the best interest of the child.
If one joint custodian doesn’t agree with an educational decision made by the other custodian, should they put the decision in the hands of the Court? That is a difficult decision and one that should be made very carefully. As the Court of Appeals reminded parents in a different case, “Once the parents have abdicated their role as custodians to the trial court, its decision is binding on the parties until it is shown that the decision is detrimental to the child physically or emotionally, or is no longer in his best interest.” Young v. Holmes, 295 S.W.3d 144 (Ky. Ct. App. 2009) While a decision by a trial court on an issue is not necessarily written in stone, it is often difficult to have overturned or changed.
If you are having difficulty making a decision with a joint custodian, or they have made a decision with which you disagree, please feel free to contact me to discuss your options. The decision they made may not be in the best interest of the child.