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Can custodial mother be held in contempt for switching the children's school without father's agreement?

Your Question:
My wifes ex is the noncustodial parent in a joint legal custody agreement of their 2 daughters. We have recently relocated over 800 miles away him to which he has signed and agreed to the move and the agreement was presented and accepted by the courts. Now almost a year later we are looking at purchasing a house just a few miles from our present location (still 800 miles away from him) and he says my wife is in contempt because she did not include him in the decision of the girls starting a new school. I think he's basically regretting agreeing to let them move and is thinking about trying to get them with him. A) Are we in contempt for not including him in the school situation? B) What chance does he have for reversing the situation?

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My Answer:

In another email (not posted), you let me know that there are no specific orders on how education decisions are made.

Joint legal custody - barring any specific orders - means that each parent has 100% authority to make decisions on behalf of the children.

Hence, the father also has complete authority to remove the children from one school and enroll them in another. Realistically, of course he can't do this from 800 miles away.

Sure, that can lead to tugs-of-war on a variety of issues. In cases where parents can't agree on major decisions, the judge will either make the decision or instruct one parent to make it.

So, it seems there is 0% chance of a motion contempt prevailing, since there are no specific orders that she violated.

To cover her behind, in the event that it's raised later in court, I suggest that your wife send the father a civil, simple note akin to, "Dear Frank, I'm understanding that you seem to have a problem with the girls starting a new school serving the district where I've purchased a home. Please advise in writing, within 10 days of this note, your reasons for objecting to this new school."

If he writes back and says, "State testing shows it to be the worst school in the county," then that's a valid objection.

If he writes back and says, "I'm angry that you didn't include me in the decision," then it's a valid feeling, but it's not a valid legal consideration.

As long as she keeps him in the information loop and has good reasons for her parenting decisions, then it's not likely a judge will find fault with her.

And, in the information you've provided, I don't think there is any reason for him to get custody. If you or the mother are addicted to drugs and hold raves five days a week, that'd be a good reason to reverse custody. But you haven't mentioned anything like that.


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