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Impact of Court Order for Minor Child’s Attendance at Boarding School

When parents who have joint legal custody can’t agree upon important decisions such as school attendance, the trial court is required to resolve the dispute in the child’s best interests.

In the case of Chizmadia v Chizmadia, the court’s decision on where the minor child would attend school drastically impacted the custodial environment. Yet the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling in its unpublished opinion issued on March 9, 2010.

In this case, the child, who was 7 years old, desired to attend Cranbrook, a private boarding school. Because the minor child would be required to live at the school most of the year, his attendance intrinsically impacted the alternating week on/week off custody arrangement with his parents.

While Defendant-Mother approved her son’s desire to attend Cranbrook, Plaintiff-Father objected to it and the subsequent impact on his parenting time. The Father argued that the “law” forbade the court from finding proper cause or a reason to change custody based solely on a child’s wishes. Plaintiff relied on the 1981 case of Curylo v Curylo for his position.

The Court of Appeals found that Curylo disfavored — in very strong language — changing custody on the basis of a child’s wishes, but fell short of prohibiting it altogether. The court found the Chizmadia’s situation different than that of the parties in Curylo.

The trial court found the parties equal on almost all best interest factors, and thus relied heavily on the child’s strong desire to attend Cranbrook in making its decision. The trial court also considered the quality of the school, the opportunities and advantages attendance at Cranbrook created, and other educational factors.

The trial court heavily weighed the minor child’s strong desire to attend. The appellate court did not find this to be clear error. While allowing the child to attend a private boarding school changed the custodial environment for both parties equally, the trial court did not alter the parties’ joint legal custody. The Court of Appeals thus found that the order for attendance at Cranbrook did not impermissibly change custody.