Choosing a School in the Best Interests of the ChildIn a separation, the decision of where to send children to school can be one of the most important decisions for parents. Consequently, it is one of the decisions that can be disputed the most if parents do not agree. It is preferred that parents make decisions about schools on their own, and it is uncommon that this decision involves interference from courts. When parents cannot agree, courts can decide where a child will attend school based on what is in the best interests of the child.

In the 2014 Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench case Garbe v Garbe 2014 ABQB 192, Justice Schutz dealt with parents disputing over which school their five-year-old child would attend for kindergarten. Justice Schutz was presented with three full-time kindergarten options from the father, while the mother proposed one part-time kindergarten option which involved the child attending after-school care at a different location. Justice Schutz considered various factors that would impact the best interests of the child, including maximizing time with each parent, the education quality, and the safety of the child during the pick ups and drop offs at the different kindergartens and daycares.

For guidance in analyzing the best interests of the child, Justice Schutz referred to the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench case Stephanson v Schulte 2000 SKQB 341. In this case, Justice McIntyre outlined factors that courts consider when selecting schools based on the best interests of the child:

“This may include examining how many years the child has attended his or her current school; whether there is any prospect of one of the parties moving in the near future; where the child was born and raised; whether a move will mean new child care providers or other unsettling features. The court will also look to any decisions that were made by the parents prior to the separation or at the time of separation with respect to schooling. Any problems with the present school will be considered” (para 18).

In Stephanson v Schulte, Justice McIntyre found that it was not in the best interests of the child to change from the school that he had attended for two years and emphasized that substantial reasons would be required to justify changing schools.

In Garbe v Garbe, Justice Schutz found that it was in the best interests of the child to minimize transitions and that the child should attend full-time kindergarten where there was after-school care available at the same location. Justice Schutz narrowed the options down to two of the full-time kindergarten programs that had been proposed by the father and directed that the mother choose one of the programs.

The choice of where a child will attend school will impact a family’s daily routine for years. On the rare occasion that the decision is in the hands of a judge, the best interests of the child will be considered over other variables such as cost, convenience, or parents’ preference.