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In NJ Family Law Matters, Who Gets to Choose the Preschool?

In NJ Family Law matters, who gets to choose the preschool when parents are separated or divorced is often an issue.  Your child is able to enroll for preschool virtually anywhere. Many parents argue over the choice of which preschool and its location. Additionally, the cost of preschool can be an issue, especially when one parent has a much higher income than the other. You might want your child to attend a religious preschool and the other parent does not agree. Your vision of what is best for your child might be contrary to that of the other parent.

Questions that commonly arise when making decisions about preschool include:
1) Should my child attend full-time or part-time preschool?
2) When is the right time to enroll my child in preschool?
3) Where should I enroll my child in preschool?
4) Who is responsible to pay for my child's preschool?
5) Should my child continue to be cared for by a family member instead of going to preschool?

When parents are separated or divorced, the most significant question for preschool selection is: Who gets to decide? If you and the other parent cannot agree on enrolling your child in preschool, unfortunately there is no statute or case law in New Jersey Divorce laws and NJ Family Law that provides a formula to judges when rendering a decision regarding preschool selection. However, the selection of preschool was the main topic of discussion in the case of Madison v. Davis recently decided by the Superior Court of Ocean County, New Jersey.

In the Madison v. Davis decision, the Court focused on disputes over preschool when the custodial parent uses preschool as necessary childcare while the custodial parent works. The custodial parent must be able to make day-to-day decisions on behalf of the child. At the same time, the non-custodial parent typically has the right to be involved in making major decisions for the child, including decisions about education. The crux of this NJ Family Law issue for the Court is: Is choice of preschool a major education decision that must be discussed between both parents or a day-to-day decision for the custodial parent to make?

The Court's decision in Madison v. Davis attempts to balance the rights of both parents while also taking into consideration what is best for the child when selecting a preschool. Although the Madison v. Davis decision offers some guidance on how a judge may resolve these issues, the reasoning of Madison may not apply to each family's situation. Since judges are not obligated to follow the reasoning of Madison because the case was decided by the trial court, not a higher court, there is no telling whether other judges will apply these standards. Even though there is no definitive answer about how to resolve preschool selection disputes, it is encouraging to see the issue receiving some attention. It is up to the well-reasoned arguments of an astute NJ child custody attorney to persuade the Court or to negotiate with the other attorney or parent, relying not only on Madison but also on the circumstances of your individual case and what is best for your child.

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