One of the most frequently asked questions of me in relation to people’s family law cases is what their child’s school needs to do in relation to their newly produced family court orders. Many of those orders will tangentially affect your child and their school. Picking up a child from school, dropping off a child at school, allowing for early release of the child for a doctor’s appointment and what parent can access information are just a few of the instances where your child’s school is relevant when discussing your family law situation.
The administration and teachers of your child’s school come face to face with issues related to family law cases on a daily basis. They have a need to balance your parental rights and that of your child’s other parent, all the while keeping a focus on the well-being and learning of your child.
It is not an easy position for these folks to be In, but they don’t get to choose the situations that their children find themselves in. They, like you, just have to make the best of whatever circumstances are in play.
To what extent does school administration have to review final orders from your divorce or child custody case?
In any family law case that affects the relationship that a parent has with one of their students, the school will need to be aware of any of your parental rights have been restricted or terminated outright. The rights that you have are likely to be assigned specifically in the order. If the order doesn’t state that you have a particular right, then it is difficult to argue that you actually do.
For instance, most parents after a family law case will retain the right to attend school events for their child, speak to their child’s teacher(s) and access their educational records like progress reports and report cards. A big thing for many families is making sure that both parents are listed as emergency contacts for their child. Imagine your child breaking a bone at school and not being telephoned at work to let you know what has happened. This can be a major factor in why schools need to know the particular circumstances of each of their students.
This can be especially important if your child is being considered for alternative learning environments, special education coursework or accelerated learning opportunities. In some families, only one parent has the ability to make decisions whether or not to enroll their child in these type of courses. However, your family may not be in the same boat and school officials need to be aware of your particular circumstances so they don’t contribute to the violations of a court order.
What if there is no court order in place at all?
An even trickier situation for your child’s school could involve you and your spouse- even if you have never gotten a divorce or been to family court. For instance, if you and your spouse are still legally married but are not living together and have been separated for some time, that may give your child’s school the impression that you are divorced. This sort of informal divorce/separation can be very confusing for your child’s school officials.
On the other hand, you and your child’s other parent may never have gotten married and the school is not aware of this. It doesn’t matter ultimately what your relationship status is if you have never been to court. As long as your child’s father has been legally declared as your child’s parent then he has the same parental rights associated with your child as you.
However, if he has not been legally declared your child’s father than he has no legal rights to her and therefore would not be able to take part in decision making, pick up/drop off or access to school records unless you speak to the administration about those circumstances specifically.
What happens in a situation where you are the only parent to interact with your child’s school?
In many situations, you may find yourself as the only parent who has a role in interacting with your child's school when it comes to their grades, classes or picks up/drop off issues.
Your child's other parent may play a role in their life but if it does not involve school-related matters the school may be completely unaware that there is another parent involved. If you are the only parent who is working with your child's school, then it is likely that they will be seeking only your approval on any of the issues that we have been discussing today.
Could your child be enrolled in school by someone other than you or their other parent?
It is possible that your child could have originally be enrolled in their school by a non-parent. Maybe you were going through problems with your spouse that required that you leave the home and attend counseling, therapy or something similar where you could not be present for your child for a period of time.
Public school policy in Texas is that if a parent is not available to enroll a child in school, a non-parent can be allowed to do so. That nonparent would need to show proof that he or she has the legal capacity to do so. This can occur even if you do not have a court order to show the school. That non-parent can not only enroll your child in school but can also be asked for input on decision making responsibilities for your child.
While this is not an ideal situation, the school is in a position where they need to get input from someone close to your child. This is the policy of the schools but is not always the most “comfortable” thing to do from a legal perspective if there is nothing from a court to justify allowing the non-parent to act in this capacity.
The best-case scenario for you and your child's other parent is to sign over power of attorney to the non-parent as soon as possible. The non-parent can provide that form to your child's school to keep in their records for future reference.
What is a power of attorney?
You may sign a legal document that allows another person to be able to step into your shoes and act in your capacity as a parent on behalf of your child when you are unable to do so. That power of attorney may be limited to certain areas (like educational issues) or can be more broadly applied. This is done on a voluntary basis and would not be the result of a court order.
Let’s say that you are going to be away from your child for a certain period of time. You may decide to leave your child with your mother and then sign a Power of Attorney that allows your mother to act as a parent to your child when it comes to decision making related to school or medical issues.
While you are away from your child, your mother would have temporary rights. Keep in mind that if you have been to family court previously and have had your parental rights restricted in any way, you are now only able to assign rights to your mother that you have retained.
What does your child’s school need to do when an absentee parent comes to withdraw your child?
Suppose that your child’s father has never been involved in her life in any way. With this background in mind, your child’s school would only have been interacting with you on the day to day matters related to your child attending school there. Your child’s father would not be known to the school administration. What happens when her father comes to school one day, announces that he is your child’s father and wants to withdraw her from school?
It is likely that your child’s school would not readily accept that this person has the right to make this request. Each public school in Texas has different protocols in place for responding to requests like this.
A school can be held accountable for not supporting the parental rights of their student’s parents, but it can also be put in a bad position if it honors the rights of a person who has had their parental rights terminated or had never had their parental rights established in the first place.
The school would at a minimum need to establish that this man is your child’s father. Asking to see some identification that he is who he says that he is would be where the school should start its analysis. What do school records say about this man? Did you ever list him as an emergency contact or as a person that has any role in your child’s life? Be aware that your child’s father may bring in a copy of their birth certificate or a court order of some sort that identifies him as your child’s parent.
Of course, you have the ability to contradict this person's position if you can produce a court order that shows that this person no longer has parental rights to your child or has never been determined to be the legal father of the child. Remember- just because a man is your child's biological father, that does not mean that he necessarily has legal rights in relation to him or her If you were never married to this man and no paternity case had ever been filed then he has no parental rights.
Your child’s father will need to provide some sort of documentary evidence to your child’s school to be able to access school records, speak to school staff or attend activities associated with your child’s schooling.
Your child’s school should tell you if the absent parent suddenly makes an appearance
It is likely that your child's father wouldn't tip you off to the fact that he will be going to the school on a random weekday to try to withdraw her from class or cause any other number of disruptions. As a result, you will be relying upon the school to keep you informed of any events like this involving your child.
From my experience, most schools will inform parents of situations like this. However, it would be wise to warn the school in advance that should something as this happen you would like to be contacted immediately.
Absent a court order, a school does not have the ability to withhold a child from their parent. What most schools will do is engage in the withdrawal process slowly enough to allow you to arrive on the scene and attempt to stop that action.
If you have a court order that bars this parent from proceeding with withdrawal then you should absolutely bring that order with you. Do not be surprised if the school calls district police or law enforcement of other kinds to intervene if a solution cannot be agreed to by you and your child’s other parent.
Questions about school-related issues for your child? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
We hope that today’s blog post has been informative for you and your family. Your child’s schooling is incredibly important to a family law case and you need to be aware of the factors that can impact them. Tomorrow we will be back to provide more information to you here on our blog about this subject.
In the meantime, if you have any questions about this or any other area of family law, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week here in our office. This is a great opportunity for you to sit down with an experienced attorney and receive direct feedback about your particular circumstances. Thank you for spending part of your day with us today.
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our divorcelawyers in Houston TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC handles divorcecases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, Houston, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.