Can I enroll my child in a different school – without dad’s permission?

Posted on Nov 21, 2022 by Katie Carter


When it comes to coparenting, there are a lot of issues that can come up. Of course, in some cases, there are a lot of issues that DON’T come up, because they’re already foregone conclusions that both parents take for granted. It seems like school enrollment is one of those issues that can find itself in both of these camps at the same time.

In many cases, the parents enroll the child in the local public school and think nothing more about it. In other cases, the parents have decided that private school is the way to go, and, despite a divorce or breakup, they do whatever they can to keep the child where she is.
In other cases, though, school enrollment becomes an issue. Maybe one parent has moved away, and would prefer the child to be in his district. Maybe neither parent now lives in the school district where they started, so there’s a choice to be made. Maybe the parties chose private school at one time, but, now, one of the parties feels she can’t afford to continue to pay the tuition.

In some cases, it’s a really big decision because, for school aged kids, it is difficult to live anywhere too far from the school they attend. Depending on the distance between the two parents, the school issue is one of the ways a custody case can actually be won. If one parent lives at a distance from the other, it becomes virtually impossible for that parent to have parenting time on school nights. If drops offs are too far or too time consuming during the morning, it’s going to impact the amount of parenting time that the other parent can have.

So, the answer to the question – can I enroll my child in a different school without dad’s permission – is a pretty easy one.

The answer is yes, if you have sole legal custody. If you have joint legal custody, though, like most people, you probably can’t.
Technically, there are two options. Either you file a petition and ask the court to allow you to enroll the child in the new school, or you go ahead and enroll the child anyway, and your child’s father files a petition (probably a show cause) against you. Ultimately, the judge will decide, if the two of you can’t have a conversation and decide yourselves.

What is joint legal custody?

Legal custody refers to the right to make three types of decisions on behalf of the child: (1) non emergency medical care, (2) religious upbringing, and (3) education.

Most parents are awarded legal custody jointly, because the court views the right to participate in this kind of decision making as central to parenthood. It’s pretty rare that sole legal custody is awarded, but, if you have it, you can certainly change the child’s school enrollment without his input.

If you don’t have sole legal custody, though, you should consult him. I mean, it is possible that you could enroll the child in another school and he wouldn’t say anything, but it’s not really probable. Most involved parents would either want to be involved in the decision making, regardless of the outcome, or they’d have their own ideas about what the best solution to the problem is. And they wouldn’t appreciate not having a chance to even weigh in on that decision.

What if my child’s father doesn’t – or won’t – agree?

It’s often the case that two coparents won’t have the same opinion about how to solve a problem. That’s probably because there’s more than one solution to almost any given problem. Not only that, but there’s a limited number of solutions that will both (1) solve the problem, and (2) suit that parent’s particular set of priorities.

Everyone’s trying to turn the situation to their own advantage, right? But that’s not really how coparenting works. Whether you like each other, tolerate each other, or completely detest each other, you have to cooperate for some of these big decisions. If a change to the status quo is going to be made, you’ll have to make room for him to participate in decision making, too, and even accept that there’s a possibility that this won’t go the way you envision.

But my solution really is the best one!

If you really can’t agree, you may have to litigate and let the judge decide. And then the question is what solution is in the best interests of the child – that’s the standard we use in custody cases. Not what is in mom’s best interests, or what’s in dad’s best interests – what is going to be best for the child? So, that’s the barometer you’ll need to use to judge whether your solution (or dad’s) will win the day.

You don’t want to litigate? Well, honestly, no one really WANTS to. It’s expensive and time consuming. But if the two of you have joint legal custody and you can’t reach a compromise, there aren’t any other options. Sure, you could go to mediation or have a settlement conference, but ultimately the goal there would be to help induce you to reach a compromise. If you can’t, litigation is the only other option.

Will you win? It’s impossible to say. Custody and visitation decisions are incredibly fact specific, and I have no facts here. Everything will hinge on your facts, and dad’s facts, and, potentially, the Guardian ad litem’s recommendation.

Good luck. For more information, or to request a copy of our custody book, give us a call at 757-425-5200 or visit our website at