Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Enrique M. v. Angelina V. (Cal. Ct. App. - June 10, 2009)

I'm not at all saying that Justice Aaron -- or the trial court, for that matter -- gets this one wrong. Lots of the dispute is fact-specific about what's best for this particular kid; what his last name should be, where he should go to middle school, etc. Obviously reasonable minds can differ on this one.

But let's at least be honest. One of the central issues is whether the child (over whom the parents have joint custody) should go to the middle school near his mother's house or the middle school near his father's house. Allegedly the child prefers the latter, and of course what we're asked to decide is what's in his best interests.

So I can see the court caring about continuity (the child went to elementary school near the mother's house), transportation difficulties (the father's school is 15 minutes away from the mother's house, which is where the child stays the majority of the time), etc. But what I think we should be forthright about is which is the "better" academic institution. The choices here being Woodland Park Middle School in San Marcos, near Mother, or Marshall Middle School in Scripps Ranch (near Father).

The trial court says that both schools are good, a declaration that the Court of Appeal reiterates. And I'm sure that's true. But come on. We all know which school is "better" in terms of test scores and stuff like that, and we should be honest about that. Here are the scores from Woodland Park, and here they are from Marshall.

Are those the be-all end-all? Of course not. Do I think we should send a child to the school of whichever parent lives in the richer neighborhood? No way. But if all other things were equal, and your child had a choice between Woodland Park and Marshall, should we be honest about which one we'd prefer? (Indeed, which one parents assuredly do prefer, if they are allowed to seek a transfer from one to the other.) Yes. We should. And then we should forthrightly put that into the mix and decide, rather than pretending that as long as a school is "good", they're equal.

POSTSCRIPT - Full disclosure. An astute reader noted that even though the identity of the Father is not revealed in the opinion, it only took a little digging to discover that he went to law school at USD while I've been teaching here. Given that nugget, I was easily able to discover the identity of the father through public sources. Two points: (1) He wasn't a former student of mine, and (2) I didn't know any of the above when I wrote the post. (But nice catch by the reader, since the USD connection came not from this opinion, but from a different one.)