Tag: Child custody and education

Family Court and Religious School

In a race between schools for your child, when can a family court judge choose the religious school over a secular one? For one Kentucky family’s child custody dispute, the court of appeals decides which school enters the Winner’s Circle.

Custody and School

Starting Gate

In the Kentucky case, a Mother and Father shared joint custody of their daughter, who has been at the center of a protracted legal dispute since the parties’ separation in 2016. The parties could not reach an agreement as to where the child should attend kindergarten, and asked the court to resolve the issue.

The Father, who is Catholic, liked that Seton was a Catholic school but noted that the curriculum also emphasized general Christian principles, as well as secular subjects such as Darwinism and evolution (ed. wow)

Father said that he was willing to pay Seton tuition costs. Father expressed concern about child attending Berea Independent due to Mother’s pending criminal charges in Berea for second-degree animal cruelty. Because Berea is a small community, Father worried child could be stigmatized, even if Mother was acquitted.

Mother, who is Baptist, was not comfortable with child attending a Catholic school and preferred that child attend a secular school. Mother testified that Berea Independent was her primary choice because it was less than a mile from her work, was in a small town, and was where she went to school as a child. She also liked that it provided a K-12 grade education in one place and liked the open classroom layout of the school.

Following the hearing, the family court judge entered an order with detailed findings of fact, concluding that it was in child’s best interest to attend Catholic school.

The Mother appealed.

Florida Divorce and Religion

I have written about the intersection of religion and custody before, especially when that intersection relates to harm to the child. For example in one area there is a frequent religious controversy: whether to give a child their mandatory vaccinations.  Usually, religion is used by the objecting parent as a defense to vaccinating children.

Whenever a court decides custody, the sine qua non is the best interests of the child. But, deciding the religious upbringing of a child puts the court in a tough position.

There is nothing in the Florida custody statute allowing a court to consider religion as a factor in custody, and a court’s choosing one parent’s religious beliefs over another’s, probably violates the Constitution.

So, unless there is actual harm being done to the child by the religious upbringing, it would seem that deciding the child’s faith is out of bounds for a judge. One of the earliest Florida case in which religion was a factor in deciding parental responsibility restricted one parent from exposing the children to that parent’s religion.

In one Florida case, the Mother was a member of The Way International, and the Father introduced evidence that The Way made the Mother an unfit parent. He alleged The Way psychologically brainwashed her, that she had become obsessed, and was neglecting the children. The Florida judge awarded custody to the Mother provided that she sever all connections, meetings, tapes, visits, communications, or financial support with The Way, and not subject the children to any of its dogmas.

The Mother appealed the restrictions as a violation of her free exercise of religion. The appellate court agreed, and held the restrictions were unconstitutionally overbroad and expressly restricted the Mother’s free exercise of her religious beliefs and practices.

When the matter involves the religious training and beliefs of the child, the court generally does not make a decision in favor of a specific religion over the objection of the other parent. The court should also avoid interference with the right of a parent to practice their own religion and avoid imposing an obligation to enforce the religious beliefs of the other parent.

The Home Stretch

Mother argued on appeal that the family court’s order compels her to send her child to a Catholic school she is conscientiously opposed to in violation of her constitutional rights.

The appellate court found that when parties to a joint custody agreement are unable to agree on a major issue concerning their child’s upbringing, the trial court must evaluate the circumstances and resolve the issue according to the child’s best interest.

The appellate court found substantial evidence to support the family court’s decision that sending child to Catholic school was in child’s best interest. The court specifically mentioned the school’s proximity to the interstate, its later start time, its teacher-to-student ratio, its on-site aftercare program, and the fact that child would know other students attending.

Perhaps most importantly, the family court felt it was not in child’s best interest to attend the secular, Berea Independent because of the possibility that child might experience negative social stigma due to Mother’s pending animal cruelty case in Berea.

Further, the trial court specifically noted its decision was not based upon religious interests. Mother “bear[s] the burden of proving that the decision of the trial court was based upon religious interests and such impropriety [will] not be presumed merely because the school selected had a religious connotation in addition to its academic offerings.”

The Kentucky Court of Appeals opinion can be found here.

False Abuse Allegations in Child Custody Cases

False allegations of abuse can be a form of alienation, and can occur during any divorce and child custody proceeding. Identifying warning signs, and knowing how the courts and laws protect against false abuse allegations, are ways to protect yourself.

False Abuse

False Abuse Claims

If a parent makes a false allegation against another parent to get the upper hand in court, they can badly undermine the parent-child relationship and use the court as a weapon to make the damage last longer.

How often do false claims happen? Accurate statistics are not known, but some have given estimates ranging from 2% to 35%. The wide range in the statistics can depend on several factors, including whether the child is reporting or a parent, and the audience.

Whatever the percentage of false claims, attorneys, judges, and mental health experts all know firsthand that it is a big problem in family court. Nothing can disrupt, sidetrack, or impede a case more than an allegation of abuse that eventually proves to be false.

Detecting a false allegation is critical because judges can be influenced by the accusation, even if it is not substantiated by the evidence. Sadly, a child custody decision could result in favor of the falsely accusing parent. Uncovering and exposing a false allegation is vital in making sure the offending parent is not rewarded for destructive behavior.

False allegations of abuse are often made during contentious child custody cases. One parent believes that he or she will gain leverage in the case by lodging an allegation of abuse against the other parent. More often than not, the allegation of abuse is a tactic used to alienate the child from the targeted parent. In other words, it is part of parental alienation. A number of steps can be taken by the targeted parent to beat the false allegation of abuse.

Florida False Abuse Claims

I have written on fraud in divorce and child custody cases before. False allegations of abuse can become the nuclear bomb of divorce and child custody cases, as Florida requires mandatory reporting of child abuse by judges and others.

There are protections and penalties for creating false abuse claims. For example, anyone who knowingly and willfully makes a false report, or counsels another to make a false report can be guilty of a felony.

In addition to criminal penalties, a false allegation can harm your child custody case too. When a court creates, or modifies a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, the court must make the best interest of the child the primary consideration.

Determining the best interests of the child requires a judge to evaluate all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of a child, including, but not limited to evidence that a parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

Self-Protection

As in all matters, protecting yourself requires some work. Try to collect as much documentation as possible to disprove the allegation. Typically these include emails, texts, photos and more.

Research hiring mental health experts who can address false allegations, parental alienation, and the particular facts in a case. Forensic experts are an invaluable resource to help you in court.

False allegations of abuse are considered parental alienation. The intent of the alienating parent is to disrupt a child’s relationship with the targeted parent. Alienation is at the heart of false claims.

The Psychiatric Times article is here.

The Rap on Joint Custody

Many are wondering what the rap is on joint custody after Kanye West requested joint legal and physical custody of his four children with Kim Kardashian. According to news reports, neither party is seeking spousal support.

Rap Custody

Famous

According to a legal response filed by the rapper’s attorney West, 43, requests joint legal and physical custody of their children. It should be no surprise that neither party is seeking spousal support.

The 43-year-old rapper’s sneaker and clothing business — now bolstered by Adidas AG and Gap Inc. — is valued between $3.2 billion and $4.7 billion by UBS Group AG, according to Bloomberg. A report published by the outlet on Wednesday, March 17, revealed that West’s total worth has skyrocketed to $6.6 billion. (Forbes previously declared West a billionaire in April 2020.)

Yeezy’s collaboration with Gap is set to hit stores this summer and “could be worth as much as $970 million” of the brand’s value, per Bloomberg. Last year, the Grammy winner signed a 10-year agreement to design and sell apparel under the Yeezy Gap label. West still holds total ownership and creative power within the company.

Along with the income from his Yeezy line, the “Gold Digger” artist has also accrued $122 million in cash and stock. He’s raked in an additional $110 million from his extensive catalog of music and has another $1.7 billion in other assets.

Forbes estimates that Kardashian West is now worth $1 billion, up from $780 million in October, thanks to two lucrative businesses—KKW Beauty and Skims—as well as cash from reality television and endorsement deals, and a number of smaller investments

Florida Shared Parental Responsibility

The question about an award of custody of children frequently comes up, especially now in Florida as the Legislature is considering a massive change to how timesharing is decided in family court.

Although Kanye is seeking “joint physical and legal custody, the term “custody” is no longer recognized in Florida. Florida replaced the “custody” term for the “parenting plan” concept in order to avoid labeling parents as “visiting parent” or “primary parent” in the hopes of making child custody issues less controversial, and encourage parents to co-parent more effectively.

Under Florida’s parenting plan concept, both parents enjoy shared parental responsibility and a time-sharing schedule. “Shared parental responsibility” means both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities and have to confer with each other so that major decisions affecting their child are made jointly.

A time-sharing schedule, as the name suggests, is simply a timetable that is included in the parenting plan that specifies the times, including overnights and holidays, that your child spends with each parent.

Florida’s parenting plan concept has changed sole custody into “sole parental responsibility.” The term means that only one parent makes decisions regarding the minor child, as opposed to the shared parental responsibility terms, where both parents make decisions jointly.

Go West

Amid the divorce, Kardashian has continued to live in the $60 million Hidden Hills mansion she shared with West, while the Yeezy designer Kanye has headed west, staying on his ranch in Wyoming.

I’ve written about the Kanye West Kardashian divorce problems before. Last year, after a series of tweets, Kanye claimed Kardashian and her mother, Kris Jenner, were trying to lock him up for medical reasons because of comments made during a rally in South Carolina.

West told the crowd during the Charleston event that he and his wife considered an abortion when she became pregnant with their first child. Kardashian emphasized in a past statement that “living with bipolar disorder does not diminish or invalidate his dreams and his creative ideas, no matter how big they feel to some.”

“I understand Kanye is a public figure and his actions at times can cause strong opinions and emotions. He is a brilliant but complicated person who on top of the pressure of being an artist and Black man, who experienced the painful loss of his mother, and has to deal with the pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bipolar disorder.”

West also asks for the court’s right to award spousal support for either person to be terminated, the filing says. In the document, West’s counsel lists irreconcilable differences as the couple’s reason for divorce, though a date of separation is not given.

West and Kardashian, 40, started dating in 2012 and tied the knot on May 24, 2014. Kardashian filed for divorce in February after nearly seven years of marriage.

The split between West and Kardashian came after a tumultuous period for the pair, who appeared to be on the brink of divorce last summer before reconnecting and spending private time together with their children.

In January, however, multiple sources confirmed that Kardashian had been working with a high-profile divorce attorney and planned to file for divorce. “They are just not on the same page when it comes to their future as a family,” one insider said at the time. “And Kim is okay with it.”

“Kim plans on staying at the Hidden Hills house with the kids. This is their home and Kim doesn’t want to move right now at least,” one insider previously told PEOPLE. “They both agree that the less stress the kids experience, the better. Kanye loves his kids. He wants them to be happy,” the source added. “He doesn’t want to fight with Kim about anything.”

The CNN article is here.

 

COVID-19 Vaccine and Child Custody Modification

A new case on the COVID-19 vaccine and child custody modification in Colorado asks what happens after the divorce when a parent has a change of heart about vaccinating the children, while the other maintains a religious-based objection to vaccination?

COVID CUSTODY

Rocky Mountain Parenting

In a post-divorce dispute, a court had to address the burden of proof to apply when considering the request of a father to modify the medical decision-making responsibility clause of their parenting plan to allow him to vaccinate the children, over the objection of the mother.

The parties’ parenting plan provided for joint medical decision-making authority and that “[a]bsent joint mutual agreement or court order, the children will not be vaccinated.”

The father had a change of heart about the children remaining unvaccinated. He described a “wake-up moment” he had when traveling for business to Seattle while the city was experiencing a measles outbreak, and then being afraid to be around the children after he got home out of fear of unknowingly exposing them.

Mother opposed vaccinating the children, in part, because it conflicted with her religious beliefs and also argued that vaccines pose a risk of side effects for the children. Specifically, because mother has an autoimmune disease and the children all had midline defects at birth, she asserted that vaccinations for the children are contraindicated.

The parents agreed a parenting coordinator/decision-maker (PCDM) could decide the issue. However, the PCDM declined to render a decision, stating that the issue was outside of her expertise and likened rendering a decision on it to “practicing medicine without a license.”

While the trial court rejected mother’s medical-based objections, the judge found that vaccination would interfere with mother’s “right to exercise religion freely,” and therefore imposed an “additional burden” on father “to prove substantial harm to the children” if they remained unvaccinated.

The court ruled that father had not met this additional burden and denied his motion to modify medical decision-making responsibility.

Father appealed.

Florida Vaccinations and Child Custody

I have written about the relationship between vaccinations and child custody in Florida before.  In Florida, the prevailing standard for determining “custody” is a concept call shared parental responsibility, or sole parental responsibility. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, 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 the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations.

The decision to vaccinate raises interesting family law issues. It is important to know what your rights and responsibilities are in Florida.

A Double Black Diamond Issue

The appellate court reversed.

Generally, Colorado has a substantial change in circumstances test for modifications, so that a court cannot modify a parenting plan unless it finds that a change occurred in the circumstances of the child or of a party and that modification is necessary to serve the child’s best interests.

In Colorado, a court has to keep the decision-making responsibility allocation from the prior decree unless doing so “would endanger the child’s physical health” and the harm likely to be caused by a change in decision-making responsibility is outweighed by the advantage to the child.

In this case, the court found that the mother’s free exercise rights are not implicated by a court’s allocation of decision-making responsibility between parents because when allocating decision-making responsibility between parents, the court is merely expanding one parent’s fundamental right at the expense of the other parent’s similar right.

The trial court erred by imposing a heightened burden on father to show substantial harm — a burden only relevant to show a compelling state interest under a strict scrutiny analysis — when considering his request to modify the parenting plan.

Once the court found the failure to vaccinate endangers the children’s physical health, and that the risks of vaccination are “extremely low” as compared to its benefits of “preventing severe illness, permanent severe damage, and death,” it should have proceeded to the second prong of the inquiry, namely, whether the harm likely to be caused by changing decision-making responsibility outweighed the benefit to the child.

The opinion is here.

 

Canada, COVID, Custody, and Class

The COVID pandemic resulted in a recent child custody case from Canada, which decided between in-person class or remote, online education. The family judge in Ontario found the father in contempt for registering their daughter for in-person class, but then the order took a surprising turn.

Covid Education

Learning the Hard Way

In the Canadian custody case over COVID and classroom learning, the parties lived together from 2009 to 2014, and had a nine-year-old daughter. After their separation, the child timeshared between parents on a week on/week off basis. The parents shared joint custody and equal parenting time.

Importantly, their custody decree also stated that both parties had to agree to a decision concerning the child’s education, and if they disagreed, they would go through mediation before initiating litigation.

Last March, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted in-person education at schools. From July to August, the parties exchanged emails discussing what they should do about the child’s education when the elementary school reopened in September.

The father wanted the child to attend school in person and to take the school bus, while the mother objected. Despite the mother’s opposition, the father registered the child for in-person education and arranged for the child to be transported by bus during his weeks.

The mother asked the court to order their child attend school remotely from home through online learning and that the father be found liable for contempt of court due to his act of unilaterally registering the child for in-person education in violation of the order. The father in turn asked the court to order that the child attend school in person and use the school bus for transportation.

Florida COVID Custody and Class

I’ve written about the custody and education before. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s 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 the child.

Determining the best interests of a child is based on an evaluation of statutory factors, and one equitable catch-all factor, affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

The statute authorizes one parent to have ultimate responsibility for certain decisions. For example, education is an area of ultimate responsibility a court can award. When a decision on education goes to trial, the court grants one parent ultimate responsibility to make that decision.

Oh Canada!

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that it was in the child’s best interests to attend the elementary school’s French Immersion Program in person and to be permitted to take the bus for transportation between her father’s house and the school.

“In my view, if schools are open, children should attend unless there is an unacceptable risk to either the child or a member of their household that is created by the fact the child attends the school and may contract the virus,” wrote Justice Mark Shelston for the Superior Court.

Justice Shelston considered a number of factors presented by the parties in determining the child’s best interests. For instance, a doctor’s report indicated that the child was at risk for psychosocial and school difficulties. The doctor recommended that the child have an individual educational plan that would support her needs.

Justice Shelston noted that this plan required the child’s in-person attendance so that she could work closely with the teachers. The child would also benefit from the French social and linguistic milieu provided by in-person attendance.

Though the mother alleged that members of the immediate and extended family, including the child’s grandparents, suffered from underlying chronic medical conditions – which placed them at a heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 – Shelston said that there was no medical evidence to support this allegation. Neither was there evidence that the grandparents lived with the child.

As regards the child riding the school bus, Shelston stated that there was no basis to conclude that the child would be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 when taking the bus.

Though the father was successful with regard to the school issue, the court ordered him to pay the mother’s costs associated with the motion for contempt. The father was held liable for contempt of court because he had registered the child for in-person education and had made school bus arrangements without the mother’s approval, in breach of the 2017 court order to which both parties had consented.

The Law Times News article is here.