Child Custody Decision: Homeschool or Public School?

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Sunday, March 27, 2016.

A Mother wants to homeschool her daughter. The Father wants the child to attend public school. A Pennsylvania appeals court had an interesting ruling on that child custody dispute.

The Mother and Father have a daughter. By order of the trial court, dated September 29, 2008, the Mother and Father shared legal custody, and Mother had primary physical custody. Then inn February 8, 2011, the Father’s legal and physical custody rights were suspended.

The Mother is very religious, and believes that those who do not practice her conservative Christianity are inherently immoral and corrupt. Her child has historically has been isolated, and her only significant source of interaction has been in the context of church.

The father argued that Daughter should be sent to public school because of his disapproval of mother’s religion, and his skepticism about religion.

On July 27, 2012, the child’s attorney requested that the child continue enrollment in public school, and the trial judge ordered her to matriculate in the Fairfield School District.

I’ve written about child custody decisions and homeschooling before. In this case, the Mother appealed, and the Pennsylvania Court of Appeals reversed. With any child custody case, the Pennsylvania Court, as do the Florida courts, applies the best interests of the child standard.

This standard requires a case-by-case assessment of all of the factors that may legitimately affect the physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual well-being of the child.

The Mother argued that the trial court was dictating to her how to raise her daughter.” She contends she should be able to home school her child to protect her from negative influences in public school.

The appellate court concluded that the Father and guardian failed to establish that public school was in the child’s best interest. It noted a lack of evidence about the academic appropriateness of home schooling, despite the fact the child wanting to attend public school.

One judge went so far as to concur, stating

We would do Children more harm than good by assuming the day-to-day parenting decisions, a function we are ill-equipped to carry out…. To decide otherwise is to inappropriately micromanage this family.

There is no Florida case on point, but the Pennsylvania case and a Kansas case are probably the correct approach.

One thing to avoid is allowing family court judges to rely on their feelings of whether homeschooling is better or worse for children. A judge has to base the decision on substantial and competent evidence in the record.

The opinion of the Pennsylvania Appellate Court is here.