How School Choice is Decided in Arizona
In Arizona, the decision of the court regarding modification of a parenting plan as pertaining to school choice requires that certain factors be considered, such as the parents’ wishes regarding school placement, the child’s wishes regarding school placement, the child’s adjustment to the current school placement, and the interaction and interrelationship of the child with persons at the school who may have a significant impact on the child’s best interests.
The Arizona Court of Appeals addressed whether the factors a court must consider are different when the school in question is out of state. In the Baker v. Meyer case, Matthew M. Meyer (“Father”) requested a modification to the original parenting plan in order for two of the minor children to attend an out of state boarding school (one re-enrolling and one enrolling for the first year).
Deborah C. Baker (“Mother”) originally objected to both boys going to school out of state, but later agreed that the older child should re-enroll for his junior year of high school as he expressed the strong desire to complete high school out of state. Baker objected to the enrollment of the younger son at the out of state school due to the resulting decrease in parenting time that would result. Meyer argued that it was a good school, the children wanted to attend, and attendance at the school was a “family tradition.” The trial court found in Meyer’s favor solely upon the factors pertaining to which school placement would be in the children’s best interest.
According to the original parenting plan, the children were to spend seven days at each of their parents’ homes on an alternating basis. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the parent whose home they were not at in the current week would pick them up at school and drop them off at the other parent’s home in the evening.
It was also agreed that both parents would share in key decisions regarding education, health care, religious upbringing, etc. The trial court viewed the issue as one of school placement only and did not, correspondingly, consider factors pertaining to the impact that out of state school placement would have upon each parent’s parenting time with the children.
School Choice May Impact Child Custody Orders in Arizona
The Arizona Court of Appeals found the trial court’s findings were erroneous because the out of state school results in a drastic decrease in the amount of parenting time allowed. The approval of attendance at the out of state school at the request of Father decreased Mother’s parenting time by at least 121 days per year. The trial court dismissed this argument, as the Father would also experience a decrease in parenting time.
The Arizona Court of Appeals held that Father’s desire to send the children to a certain school should not circumvent the agreed upon court ordered parenting time for Mother. The court of appeals ruled the issue was not simply one of the choices of school for the children but, instead, should be addressed as a request to modify parenting time.
The Arizona Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court erred as a matter of law in determining the issue in this case as one of school choice. The Arizona Court of Appeals concluded that pertinent factors relating to the effect of decreased parenting time should have been, but were not, considered by the trial court.
When addressing a request for a modification of parenting time, the court must consider the relationship between the parents and the children, the interaction between the child and others who may significantly affect the children’s best interest, the children’s adjustment to home, school and community, the wishes of the children, and the mental and physical health of everyone involved in the children’s lives. According to Arizona law, unless evidence is provided to the contrary, it is generally in the best interests of the children to maintain “substantial, frequent, meaningful, and continuing parenting time with both parents.”
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case. In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.