What Happens When Parents Cannot Agree on a Child’s Education?

In a recent case that was heard by Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal, two parents with shared parenting responsibilities could not come to an agreement on where their children should attend school.

Parents With Shared Responsibility Could Not Agree on Where Their Children Should Attend School

In Lane v. Lane, 43 Fla.L.Weekly D1582 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2018),   he father wanted the children to attend a private Christian school, and he committed to paying all of the costs for their private school attendance. The mother, by contrast, expressly wished for the children to continue attending public school.

While the parties were at an impasse over this shared parenting responsibility and could not come to an agreement, the father took the children to Westminster for the purposes of taking an entrance eligibility exam. The mother filed a Motion for Contempt when this news came to light, arguing that the father’s actions violated a shared parenting responsibility since the actions were taken without the mother’s knowledge or consent.

Months later, the father responded by filing an Amended Motion to Authorize Enrollment of the children at the Christian school, arguing that refused to engage in potential discussions about the children’s private school attendance.

This disagreement set the stage for a Florida trial court’s task of resolving the impasse between the two parents. The trial court ultimately used the “best interests of the child” standard, a longstanding way of resolving parental disputes by emphasizing what most benefits the child. Relying on this standard, the trial court ordered that it would be in the best interests of the children to attend the private Christian school.

Further, the trial court’s order required the mother to “fully cooperate” with the children’s applications to Westminster and fully support their application and enrollment if accepted. As a result of this decision, the 3rd District Court of Appeal heard the mother’s appeal of this trial court decision.

Florida Appellate Court Reminds That Trial Courts Must Decide Shared Parenting Disagreements by Determining the Best Interests of the Child

In the appellate court’s review for a potential abuse of discretion by the trial court, the opinion reminds of the case law that serves as precedent for how shared parenting disagreements should be handled. When parents with shared parenting responsibilities come to an impasse and cannot agree, the trial court must then reach a decision regarding the child’s welfare by determining what is in the child’s best interests.

The court weighed a number of legal arguments presented by both parents on appeal, before ultimately concluding that the trial court appropriately used its discretion to resolve the issue presented.

Importantly, the court also held that the father’s failure to inform the mother of his plans to take the children to Westminster for an entrance eligibility exam did not violate their shared parental responsibility. The court notes that the mother did not present a single Florida case demonstrating that taking children to a testing exam can be construed as a violation of shared parenting duties. The court distinguished the case in question involving an entrance exam from a separate Florida case where a mother violated her shared parenting duties by unilaterally enrolling a child 70 miles away from the father’s place of residence (Sabatini v. Wigh, 98 So. 3d 245-244 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012)).

In summary, then, it is important to keep the following in mind concerning this important Florida family law case:

  • When parents with shared parenting duties cannot agree on a matter related to the child’s welfare, a trial court will be tasked with deciding the issue
  • The trial court must resolve the issue by making a decision that is based upon a determination of the child’s best interests
  • Taking children to an entrance exam does not violate shared parenting duties, whereas unilaterally enrolling a child without a parent’s knowledge or consent has been shown to violate shared parenting responsibility

If you have questions for a Tampa divorce lawyer concerning Florida law on shared parenting responsibilities, our team at The McKinney Law Group is ready to discuss your legal concerns. Contact us online for a free consultation with a Tampa divorce lawyer at The McKinney Law Group today.

If you have questions for a Tampa divorce lawyer, or are unaware of the terms and conditions of a Tampa divorce, talk to, and retain, a family law attorney who can help. Contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at [email protected]