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.)


You and your spouse are divorced. You get along exceptionally well, so well that you share custody of your child. Since you live in the better school district, you enrolled your child where you live. Now, you have received notice from the school that they believe your child is not truly a resident and they wish to remove your child from enrollment.

What are your rights and what can you do?

In Illinois, a child has a right to a tuition-free education in the district where the child’s parent or guardian resides. A guardianship may not be awarded to a friend or non-parent relative solely to allow the child to attend school in a given district. In other words, you cannot give your sister legal custody of your child for the sole purpose of your child attending school in your sister’s district.

If you are divorced and have legal custody by court order, your child may attend school in your district. This does not always prevent some schools from developing suspicions about your child’s actual residence, however, and you may still have to prove that your child’s fixed nighttime abode is actually with you and not the other parent.

The situation can become more complicated if you have joint custody, or if you and the other parent were never married, but informally share custody of the child. The Illinois school statute does not seem to have contemplated such modern beneficial living arrangements. After all, if your child splits their time between parents, how do you prove which home is your child’s real nighttime abode? Fortunately, in situations with joint custody, you are generally allowed to make an election once a year as to which residence controls for school purposes. If you have no formal custody arrangement, the situation can become more problematic. You may still have to prove which parent’s residence should control.

If the school believes your child is not a resident, the school must first send you notice by certified mail. You then have ten days to request a formal hearing to provide the evidence necessary to show where your child actually lives. We advise that you have an attorney assist you with the hearing as school districts sometimes take advantage of unrepresented parents who believe the matter should be simple since they have nothing to hide. If the parent loses the hearing, the school may remove deregister your child and even charge the parent tuition.

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