Parental Rights and Educational Choices

Parental rights are fundamental in our society. This provides that no government or court will intervene in how a parent chooses to raise his or her child unless there is a threat of harm or it is not in the best interest of the child. When parents are married and together, usually these types of decisions are made together and a compromise is generally struck when there are disagreements. However, when a marriage has been dissolved, many of the issues that the couple did not agree on when they were married may rise to the surface and cause a ripple in the family dynamic. If you and your ex spouse are having a difficult time making decisions about the future of your children, it is important to speak with an experienced family law attorney.

One of the most hotly debated issues with parents is educational opportunities for their children. Usually, parents may be at opposite ends of the debate when it comes time to deciding whether the children should be educated in a public school, private school, or homeschooled.

When is the Best Time to Negotiate Your Educational Choice?

At the time of dissolution, there is an opportunity to discuss between the parents, going forward, the shared responsibilities and how decisions will be made. In theory, it is the hope of the court that parents will decide to look past their issues, they will co-parent, and make choices bilaterally. However, this may not always be the case. Where the parents are unable to come to a decision at the time of the dissolution, the court will generally review a few things:

  • The best interest of the child;
  • Who has a greater interest, passion, or educational background in the issue; and if relevant,
  • What the status quo was before the dissolution.

In other words, if the child was attending a public school during the marriage, the Court may review whether this is the best learning environment for the child, whether either parent fees strongly about the issue, whether one parent has been taking charge of the educational decisions during the marriage, and finally, if the child ismature enough to provide a preference. At the time of dissolution, the age of the child may also be relevant. For example, homeschooling may be fine for a minor child who would be elementary-school aged, but as he or she becomes older, there may be socialization benefits for the child or increased educational opportunities at the local school.

Options for Integrating Your Decisions into the Co-Parenting Plan

For a parent who is passionate about education, whether it is regarding homeschooling or private/public school options, he or she is more likely to get his or her way if:

  • He or she is able to write into the co-parenting plan that he or she will be responsible for the educational choices of the child;
  • He or she is able to get sole responsibility of the child (which in Florida is generally unlikely since there is a presumption that active involvement of both parents is beneficial to the child); and/or
  • He or she is able to show that the educational choice to either homeschool the child or send him or her to a school is in the best interest of the child, and that the child is thriving in this particular environment.

If you are a parent that is in conflict with your ex-spouse over the type of education that you want your child to receive, it is important to negotiate your co-parenting arrangement agreement at the time of dissolution so that educational choices either are delegated to you or this particular educational choice (to either homeschool or send your child to public/private school) is defined. This is because to amend a co-parenting plan to contain this negotiated status would be more difficult, if not impractical, at a later date, unless you are able to show a change of circumstance that would elicit a change for the best interest of your child.

Please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.