Gusty A.E. Sunseri & Associates, P.C. Attorneys at Law

How important is a school district in a child custody case

As an experienced Pittsburgh family law attorney, I know that child custody is a very 'touchy' subject. The issue of school districts often becomes a contentious issue in child custody disputes where both parents do not live in close proximity. The parent living in the "better" school district often uses that fact as a reason for him or her to have primary physical custody of the child. The parent in the "weaker" school district typically argues that the choice of school district isn't especially important and shouldn't be taken into consideration by the court.

The true importance of school districts, of course, lies somewhere between those two extremes. When the custody laws in Pennsylvania were revamped in 2011, the legislature established 15 factors that the court must consider when awarding custody. The tenth factor calls for the court to consider "which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child."

Therefore, although the legislature did not make any specific reference to school districts, it did instruct the court to consider the educational needs of the child. Now, it is clear from the above language that the legislature is more concerned with which parent will attend to the child's educational needs, but when this clause paired with the court's overarching goal of looking out for the best interest of the child, school districts become a relevant factor to consider.

However, the child's school district is no more than that, a relevant factor for the court to consider in its analysis of 15 factors crafted to ensure the child's best interests are met. The simple fact that you or your former spouse reside in a superior school district is not determinative of which one of you will have primary physical custody of your child. The court will likely take the school districts into consideration but will weigh it against the remaining criteria and make a decision that is in the best interest of your child.

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