School Choice and Custody Issues

“School choice” cases, as those cases are typically referred to by child custody attorneys, are difficult, fact-laden, and emotional.

School Choice cases are made more complex if the change in school, due to logistics of school hours and location, impacts the other parent’s ability to be an active member of the school community or even impacts that parent’s ability to exercise their custodial time.

Every spring and summer, Pennsylvania child custody attorneys and the custody courts see a drastic increase in the amount of cases brought to the court for consideration regarding where the parties’ children will attend school in the next year. I'll answer many of the important questions parents typically have below.

WHO picks the school for my child?

The Pennsylvania custody statute defines legal custody as “the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical decisions, religious and educational decisions.” See for the child custody statutes. Education decisions include where your child attends schools. Most parents share legal custody and both get an equal vote in educational decisions.

WHERE will my child go to school if my child’s other parent and I do not agree on school choice?

If you have shared legal custody, and you cannot agree on school choice, your only remedy is to file formal paperwork with your court asking for the court to stand in as the tie-breaker and select which school your child or children will attend.

WHY would my child’s school selection be in dispute?

There are a wide variety of situations that can lead to a dispute in where a child or children should attend school. The most obvious reason would be one parent moving to a new school district. However, sometimes the school originally selected jointly by a child’s parents is not the best fit for the child over time. Poor academic performance, bullying, or a need for special academic or disciplinary accommodations are all common reasons for parents to take a step back and reconsider whether the school that their child attends or will attend is truly the best fit for that child.

WHEN do I need to file to change my child’s school?

When you should file will depend on the facts of your case, but, generally, you should be thinking about filing as soon as you know that you do not agree on a school selection. You do not want to wait until the very last minute to ask the court to intercede or you run a very real risk that you will not be scheduled before the court until after the school year commences. Depending on your county, your wait time to get in front of the court could be lengthy. A local attorney who handles these matters regularly can give you guidance on when and how to file.

WHAT evidence will the Court hear about my preferred school?

There are a plethora of resources available on the schools across Pennsylvania, both public and private, which include standardized test scores, crime rates, and curriculums offered at the school. There are professionals who dedicate their careers to analyzing those data sources to provide recommendations on the best fit for your child (at a price, of course).

The court will also want to hear from the parents on their positions and possibly school professionals from each school. It is possible the courts may even want to hear from the children involved, if they are of an appropriate age and maturity. “School choice” cases can involve numerous witnesses and heavy amounts of evidence due to the fact-driven nature of the case. At the end of the day, the court has to decide which school will serve your children’s best interests.

HOW do I find a “School Choice” attorney?

Litigation over where children will attend school is a specialized area of the custody law. You should consult with a family law attorney that regularly handle these cases in your area to gain a thorough understanding of what your case would entail and your likelihood of success.

All of the child custody attorneys at High Swartz, LLP handle school choice matters and are well versed in the nuances of this small corner of custody litigation. If you and your child’s other parent do not agree on school choice, a consultation with a member or members of our team can help you analyze the facts of your case and formulate a strategy for future action. If you have any questions, please contact family lawyer Elizabeth C. Early at 610-275-0700 or

The information above is general: we recommend that you consult a family law attorney regarding your specific circumstances.  The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.

High Swartz is Legal Counsel for Affordable Housing Finance Award Winner

Highland Hall Senior Housing has been chosen as the seniors housing winner in Affordable Housing Finance magazine’s 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards.

The Highland Hall Complex, located in the Borough of Hollidaysburg, Blair County, Pennsylvania, was completed in January 2018 and provides 53 units of senior affordable housing to the residents of that community. The Development team was led by S&A Homes from State College, PA. The developer will be in attendance at the AHF Live conference in November, in Chicago, where they will formally receive their award.

“Developments like Highland Hall require a great team”, relays Robert Poole, CEO of S & A Homes. “Led by Andy Haines, we had important political support from Former Congressman Bill Shuster, Governor Tom Wolf, State Representatives Judy Ward, Jim Gregory, and former State Senator John Eichelberger. This was a development everyone wanted to happen.”

The design team was led by Upstreet Architects, Keller Engineers, with Arnold Heller and William F. Kerr of High Swartz as the legal counsel, Poole Anderson Construction as General Contractor, and NDC Management as the post construction property manager.

highland hall interior
Highland Hall Interior. Photo credits: Gatesburg Road Development.

Highland Hall, originally built in 1867, is listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places as well as being a significant structure in the Hollidaysburg Historic District. The stone building is Italianate style with Classical Revival/Second Empire elements. The limestone for the building was quarried on the property. Situated near the top of a hill overlooking its 4-acre site, Highland Hall is architecturally dominant as well as being a prominent part of the community visible from many areas throughout the neighborhood. This site is so revered in the community it has its own zoning district.

Prior to its current restoration, the building was vacant for 15 years and was in a state of disrepair with serious structural problems. The property has served the community as a County Courthouse Annex and home to several schools including a radio school during World War II, a girl’s school, and a seminary school. The previous property owner had requested a permission to demolish the property before being approached by S & A.

Numerous challenges were overcome so that S&A’s vision for this building could be brought to fruition. In designing the structural changes, preservation of the buildings central historic façade was paramount while simultaneously constructing two new building additions that would complement the historic fabric of the original building. Financing the Highland Hall renovation required perseverance by the development team as it took three attempts over several years in a competitive financing environment to secure the capital needed to complete the restoration. The financing package for the redevelopment of Highland Hall was complex and involved multiple sources of capital. Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency provided a low interest loan of $1.5 million and an allocation of Low Income Housing Tax Credits. These tax credits were in turn purchased by CREA LLC in exchange for equity to use in funding the complex. Citizens Bank provided a bridge construction loan and also served as a sponsor of an Affordable Housing Program funding via the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh.

The complex leased up to full occupancy in 5 months and has maintained full occupancy ever since. The development is one of 22 developments with LIHTC by S & A Homes, which started developing affordable housing in 2000 and continues to this day, focusing on Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

This article was adapted from a press release by Gatesburg Road Development. Photo credits: Gatesburg Road Development.

For more information regarding Affordable Housing, contact our real estate attorneys here at 1.833.LAW.1914.

Mary Cushing Doherty presents at AFCC-AAML Conference

Mary Cushing Doherty, Head of High Swartz's family law practice was a co-presenter and educator at the recent AFCC-AAML Conference in San Diego. The joint conference brought together leading experts in Family Law to address the most difficult issues many in the profession face.

The AFCC (Association of Family and Conciliation Courts) and the AAML (American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers) teamed up to bring an advanced-level training opportunity to the Family Law community. Programs during the 3-day conference, September 19-21, 2019 included topics like parent/child contact problems, psychological testing in child custody evaluations,, de-biasing strategies, personality disorders and affluence's effect on child development.

On Thursday, Mary taught alongside Dr. Larry Fong, a psychologist from Calgary, Alberta, Canada regarding Parent relocation dilemmas.

About the presentation:

Relocation cases increase the myriad complications confronting post-separation families. They also create significant challenges for attorneys, custody evaluators, and judicial officers. Each of these professionals may have different approaches to addressing the conflict that arises when one parent wishes to relocate, and the other parent believes that the move will upset the child’s familiar surroundings and disrupt their own relationship with the child. This session will present the views of an experienced attorney and psychologist who will provide the nuts and bolts of the law, and the components and reasoning behind a custody/access assessment addressing relocation.*

mary cushing doherty and Dr. Larry Fong speak at AFCC AAML conference in San Diego 2019
Mary Cushing Doherty standing alongside Dr. Larry Fong during their presentation in San Diego.

Mary also taught a program on Saturday regarding Analysis of Risk and Pre/Post Separation Problems. She was joined again by Dr. Larry Fong, as well as Gordon D. Cruse, Esq., of CFLS in San Diego.

About the presentation:

Attorneys, mental health professionals, and others require criteria that assist in determining the management of risk with their own clients or others. Risk management in the field of negotiations, alternate dispute resolution, and in analyses of clients, are of concern to everyone in the field. Presenters will discuss the HCR-20, a structured professional judgment assessment, and other tools, in light of how these criteria assist professionals in making better determinations of risk.*

*Summary from AFCC/AAML Conference brochure.