You and your husband no longer see eye to eye. You have not filed divorce papers, but you’ve decided to live apart—at least for now. You still hope you can work things out. One of you lives in an excellent school district so you would like your children to go there. Now the school is claiming that your children are not residents of the district and is handing you a whopping tuition bill.

Can they do that? What can happen to you?

In Illinois, your child has a right to a free and appropriate public school education in the district where the parent or guardian resides. (105 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/10-20.12(a)(1).) However, you cannot live in a school district for the sole purpose of sending your child to that district’s schools. Therefore, you may have to prove you had other reasons for living there.

Well, you think, I am having marital issues, so I’m covered, right? Not necessarily. Legally speaking you would be correct. If you really moved because you separated from your spouse, then the schools aren’t your sole reason for living in that district. The problem comes in proving that to the school.

Unfortunately, many school districts still think we live in the 1950’s with idealized nuclear families. If you didn’t file divorce papers, the schools are suspicious. If you are ambivalent about your separation and still trying to make a go of your marriage, the schools are suspicious. If you get along too well with your spouse, the schools are suspicious. And that means that if your residency is challenged, the schools will want to know a lot about your business. This can include sharing the intimate details of your married life.

If you do file divorce papers, you may need a custody order giving the parent in the desired district residential custody. But if you haven’t filed, you will need a lot of evidence proving where you live, especially since the school will have undoubtedly sent an investigator to spy on you. The testimony of just you and your spouse is not enough.

If you receive a notice about your child’s residency, contact an experienced school law attorney immediately. An attorney can help present your situation to the school in its most favorable light. Do not try to handle the matter yourself. What you believe is your right to enroll your children may instead violate Illinois law. Our clients often unwittingly make incriminating statements before coming to us. Plus, a school hearing officer is more likely to rule for the school if you represent yourself. Your child may be barred from attending that district, and you could face a hefty tuition bill as well as criminal charges.

If you have questions about this or another related school matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email matt@mattkeenanlaw.com.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)