North Shore Judge Picked Public School For Child Over Religious School As Default In Parents’ Dispute

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A Massachusetts judge chose a public school for a child as a default over a religious school in a dispute between the child’s estranged parents.

That decision bothered at least two of the three members of the Massachusetts Appeals Court panel who heard the case Tuesday, who noted that the standard for making decisions in custody disputes is “the best interest of the child.”

The mother wanted to keep the boy at North Shore Christian School and pay for it herself. The father wanted the child to attend Beverly public schools, at least partly because he considered North Shore Christian to be too religious.

The Essex County Probate and Family Court judge found both schools to be good options for the boy, but picked the public school.

“In the end I didn’t see a clear sentence – but perhaps you’ll help me find it – that says, ‘Taking all of that into account, I find the Beverly public school system is in the best interest of the child because …’ ” said Justice Gabrielle Wolohojian, addressing the father’s lawyer.

William Sanford Durland III, the lawyer for the father, said the lower court judge, Judge Michael Anderson, was frustrated by the inability of the parents to agree on many matters, including where their son should go to school.

“And I think Judge Anderson looked at all that and said, ‘Ultimately, they don’t agree. You’ve come to me. I’m stuck with this decision. And, if you don’t agree, we have to default to the public schools,’ ” Durland said.

“All right, so let’s accept that,” Wolohojian responded. “Let’s accept that it’s default. That also doesn’t seem to me to be — necessarily equate to child’s best interest. Right? Because what if the default is not in the child’s best interest?”

She later asked:  “Does the judge then take the pluses and minuses and say, ‘It’s in the child’s best interest to be in the public school rather than the private school’ on same basis other than a notion of, like, the public school is the default?” Wolohojian said.

Justice Andrew D’Angelo agreed with her line of reasoning.

“You keep saying it’s the default. That’s not the standard. The standard is:  What’s the best interest of the child? And to me, reading the findings, the judge didn’t really make a decision on that,” Justice D’Angelo said.

Durland told the appeals court that the two parents agreed to keep their son at North Shore Christian for the current school year because of certain practical concerns, but he said that the dispute remains.

The father’s lawyer noted that the lower court judge expressed frustration at the mother’s posture toward the father.

“And father’s role in his son’s education is an important component of that best-interest decision,” Durland said.

“Oh, I get that. And I understand the judge’s frustration with the mother’s approach here,” Justice Wolohojian said.

The case is partially impounded, so court filings are not available to the public.

The case is called Ryan Jordan v. Kaye Mulvey. (It’s docket number 2023-P-0222.) Oral arguments before the Massachusetts Appeals Court took place Tuesday, December 19, 2023.

At the end of oral arguments, Justice Wolohojian addressed the parents, who were in the courtroom, directly.

“The courtroom is the – in my humble view – the least beneficial forum in which to try to resolve questions such as this. And it is not surprising to me that the judge below took into account the apparent inability to agree and respect each other’s views in the calculus of what is in the best interests of the child,” Wolohojian said. “Harmonious relationships between parents is the single most beneficial thing to the child. I speak from the love and respect I have for my parents when I say that. And I just mention it today.”


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