On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Wednesday, August 20, 2014.

Joint child custody, or shared parental responsibility, is frequently ordered in Florida, and requires parents to jointly make decisions. What happens if parents disagree about where their children should go to school?

Issues relating to education are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court. At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of a child.

Determining the best interests of a child in Florida is not entirely subjective, but based on an evaluation of statutory factors affecting the interests and the circumstances of the child’s family.

Courts should limit themselves to the statutory factors, but judges – like the rest of us – have their own biases. This is frequently seen in cases against homeschooling.

A new case out of Kansas about homeschooling, and reported by The Volokh Conspiracy, shows this bias.

In the Kansas case, the trial judge ruled:

” . . . I’m granting primary custody to Mr. Rocha for a number of reasons, one of which is . . . he appears to understand that the benefits of education aren’t just what you learn, it’s – the socialization and interaction with other students, which are important, that cannot be achieved by homeschooling.” The judge added “that [the mother] is educating the girls for the Fifteenth Century, not the Twenty First Century.”

Did you catch that flicker of bias in the judge’s ruling comparing homeschooling to an education for the 15th Century? The appeals court disagreed:

The trial court’s statements that socialization and interaction with other students cannot be achieved by homeschooling are unsupported. . . There is no evidence to support the trial court’s homeschooling comments in this case.

The court of appeals upheld the trial court’s decision to award the primary custody to the Father, even though it disagreed with the homeschool ruling.

The appellate court also noted a Pennsylvania case which weighed educational decisions on a “case-by-case” basis, and used the best interests of the child standard.

There is no Florida case on point, but the Pennsylvania case and the recent 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 Volokh Conspiracy post is here. The Kansas case is here.

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