Divorcing Parents Urged Not To Change Child's School

by Honorable Anne Kass. Ann Kass is a District Judge in the Second Judicial District State of New Mexico

Change is an unavoidable consequence of divorce. Two changes the children will definitely experience are in their family structure and in how they spend their time. Children will also suffer a downward change in their standard of living because there will be two households to support instead of one.

Another change that is often unavoidable is in where they live because the family home is sold. When that happens, it will change their neighborhood, which in turn causes changes in their friends.

We strongly urge parents to try to prevent a change in their children's schools, but sometimes that's not possible.

Many divorcing parents are aware of how stressful change can be for their children, and they do all that is in their power to contain it. Other parents seem oblivious to the price they ask their children to pay.

Not long ago, a father who had moved from New Mexico to California, accompanied by his 11-year-old son, was in my court because at the end of a summer visit with his mother in Albuquerque, the youngster refused to return to California.

The father was certain the mother had improperly enticed the boy to stay in New Mexico. He admitted, however, that his son had not done well in school in California during the spring session, and he acknowledged that his son had misbehaved in school. At home there had been disciplinary problems. We asked a counselor to talk with the boy. The counselor reported the youngster was simply homesick. He had lived his whole life in Albuquerque where his grandparents lived as well. He had always gone to the same school, and he had lived in the same neighborhood since he was five. He wanted to come home.

The father angrily insisted that he had asked his son whether he wanted to move to California, and the boy had eagerly said yes. The father said he had challenged his son.  We also encourage divorcing spouses to cooperate when they make decisions about how to share their limited monies and property because we know that if they approach property or income division in a competitive way, there will be less for both of them because their legal fees will consume much of what there is to divide. We also try to teach parents problem-solving skills so they can manage their own lives instead of having the courts manage their lives for them.

Non-adversarial conflict resolution is the most exciting thing happening in the American legal system.

The University of New Mexico Law School has joined law schools across the country in teaching lawyers to be problem-solvers rather than hired guns. This is a paradigm shift that will benefit everyone. Problems are unlimited, and the more of us who learn how to be problem-solvers the better. That includes non-lawyers as well.

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