Jodie Sweetin: Joint Custody and Fighting Over Schools

Actress Jodie Sweetin has filed legal documents requesting an order that her daughter attend a specific elementary school in September. Sweetin is best known for her role as Stephanie Tanner on the TV series, Full House.

According to TMZ, Sweetin and ex-husband, Morty Coyle, cannot agree on which school to send their daughter. Sweetin wants four year old Beatrix to go to the same school as her older daughter (from a previous marriage), whereas Coyle wants Beatrix to go to a school that is closer to his house. Sweetin and Coyle have joint custody of Beatrix.

Parents with joint legal custody are responsible for making major decisions regarding the child's welfare together. Where parents cannot agree on an issue incidental to custody such as education, health or religion, one or both parties may apply to court for a determination.

In the days and weeks before the start of the school year, many separated parents find that they are unable to reach an agreement on where their children should go to school. As a result these parents, like Sweetin, ask a court to make this important decision on an urgent basis. In Ontario, a court will compare the parents' preferred schools to determine which one, on balance, is in the best interests of the child. While each case is very fact specific, factors that a court may consider include:

  • The quality of education at each school;
  • Whether one school is substantially closer to the child's primary residence, thus reducing travel time for the child;
  • Whether siblings attend either school;
  • If the child lives in a neighborhood where their friends attend one of the schools;
  • Long-term affordability of the schools, if one is more expensive than the other (i.e. private schools);
  • If there is a before-and-after school program and the family requires daycare; and
  • If the schools have gifted programs or extra assistance for children with special needs, if required.

For parents who wish to move a child from one school to another, the court will consider the benefits of changing schools and whether there is any hardship in keeping the children at their present school.

In situations of joint custody, courts are reluctant to dictate where a child should go to school and parents are encouraged to resolve this matter privately. Where parents cannot agree, the best interests of the child test will govern.

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