One all-too-common tactic used in Utah divorces is one parent taking the kids in the middle of the school year and moving them miles away to a new school. Essentially, they change schools in the middle of the year.

The thought is that the parent who moves the kids will have an upper hand in the divorce.

Quite often in Utah divorce, this tactic backfires.

Judges see this behavior as a power play to keep the kids away from the other parent, and as something that disrupts children’s lives.

Beyond Utah divorce tactics and what judges think, doing this to kids is not a good idea.

Taking kids from their schools and putting them in another one, especially during a turbulent time like divorce, tends to hurt kids, both scholastically and emotionally.

We’ve dealt with these types of moves many times, and we’ve compiled some research findings to help Utah divorce courts see how damaging changing schools can be on kids.

Here is a look at some of that research:

Summary of Research on Changing Schools

Study 1

Gasper, DeLuca, and Estacion, Switching Schools: Reconsidering the Relationship Between School Mobility and High School Dropout, Am Educ. Res. J. June 2012, at 14-15.

Like previous research, we find that just under 30% of high school students attend more than one high school, and the students who change schools are more likely to drop out. Consistent with other studies that examine the backgrounds of mobile students, we find that the students who are most likely to switch schools are also those students who are operating with a number of existing risk factors, such as behavioral problems, lower test scores, more school absences, a non­intact family, previous substance use, lower incomes and more residential mobility.”

“We found that the differences in dropout rates between switchers and stayers could be largely accounted for by family structure and previous behavior and academic performance.”

Study 2

Jeffrey Grigg, School Enrollment Changes and Student Achievement Growth: A Case Study in Educational Disruption and Continuity, Sociology of Education, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0038040712441374, at 401.

This article expands the definition of student mobility to encompass all situations in which a student finds himself or herself in a new school. It finds not only that these experiences are more prevalent than most estimates of mobility would suggest but also that in all cases the changes in school enrollment were detrimental to the student’s achievement growth as measured by test scores. The change in MNPS enrollment policies as it achieved unitary status induced variation in compulsory school changes that allowed for a robust estimate of the effect of changing schools. Although the phenomena are not strictly uniform, the results were remarkably consistent in both reading and mathematics and across all types of mobility except expulsion, suggesting that school changes disrupt a child’s educational development at least in the short term. Disadvantaged students experience these disruptions more frequently during the course of their education, which may lead to an accumulating deficit.

Study 3

Burkam, Lee, and Dwyer, School Mobility in the Early Elementary Grades: Frequency and Impact From Nationally-Representative Data, Workshop on the Impact of Mobility and Change on the Lives of Young Children, Schools, and Neighborhoods, June 29-30, 2009, at 2–3, 4.

Although structural reasons for changing schools do occur, and are therefore important to attend to, it is equally important to consider reasons for school change that are related to the family. . . . School changes also may occur as a result of residential mobility due to a change in the family’s situation; this could include positive changes, such as a better job, a better residence, or moving to be near family (Crowley, 2003) or negative disruptions within the family, such as divorce, job loss, economic downturns, or death in the family (among others) (Crowley, 2003; Rumberger et al., 1999).

Taken together, the majority of the literature on school mobility suggests that school change has a negative influence on academic achievement, academic progress, and non-academic outcomes.

. . .

Discontinuity for mobile children. Whether a school change is strategic or reactive, when a child changes schools, he or she experiences what some researchers call an “ecological transition” (Mehana & Reynolds, 2004; Temple & Reynolds, 1999). This term, borrowed from Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory, has been defined as “changes in the settings, roles, or expectations of a developing person” (Temple & Reynolds, 1999). These changes create discontinuity in a child’s academic and social environment. Academically, a child is likely to experience a mismatch between his or her old and new schools in the curriculum (Rumberger et al., 1999), teachers, academic standards, and expectations for classroom behavior (Ingersoll, Scamman, & Echerling, 1989; Mehana & Reynolds, 2004). Some researchers have suggested that these changes might be particularly harmful during early schooling, as mobile children may miss exposure to critical conceptual knowledge that forms the foundation of later learning (Kerbow, 1996). In addition to discontinuity of educational experiences, school change can also disrupt important social networks with peers, teachers, and other adults. An emerging body of researchers have adopted Coleman’s notion of social capital when considering the implications of school mobility, suggesting that school moves diminish social capital by severing social relationships between children, parents, and their teachers (Gruman et al., 2008; Pribesh & Downey, 1999; South, Haney, & Bose, 2007).

Study 4

Schwartz, Stiefel, & Cordes, Moving Matters: The Causal Effect of Moving Schools on Student Performance, Institute for Education and Social Policy, Working Paper #01-15, March 2015, at 7.

Conversely, moves made in the middle of the school year are likely to have more deleterious effects than those made during the summer – that is, between school years – because such mid-year moves will be more disruptive to peer networks and the learning process, whereas summer moves allow a student to begin the school year with new classmates.

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