Tag: Child Custody homeschool

Can Working Parents Get Child Custody over a Stay Home Parent and There’s Good Coronavirus Information

Roughly 18% percent of parents in America stay home to raise their children, and a majority of parents are working outside the home. Does working outside the home weaken your chances to be awarded child custody over the stay-at-home parent? A Michigan court just answered that question. There’s also some good coronavirus information.

Working Child Custody

Custody in the Mitten State

In a recent Michigan case, a family judge found that a child had an established custodial environment only with the mother, Sarah, largely because Sarah “was the stay at home mom while the parties were together” and the child “is with her the majority of the time.” The other mother, Bridget, had her timesharing reduced because she worked outside the home.

Bridget and Sarah married in April 2014. They had a child using Bridget’s egg fertilized with a sperm donor and implanted in Sarah. Bridget and Sarah agreed that Sarah would stay home to raise their child while Bridget worked as a canine officer with the Eastern Michigan University Police Department.

Bridget and Sarah’s relationship began to deteriorate after the child’s birth. Money was tight and Bridget claimed that Sarah rejected Bridget’s requests that she return to work. Sarah, on the other hand, accused Bridget of belittling her role as a stay-at-home parent.

Bridget worked overtime when possible and was sometimes required to travel for work events. Bridget’s absence put a strain on the relationship. Eventually, the couple’s arguments, suspicions, and verbal mistreatment of each other took its toll and Bridget filed for divorce.

Bridget testified that during their marriage, both she and Sarah served as “primary caretaker[s]”. Bridget asserted that she “picked [her] shift at work to make it so that [she] could have the most amount of hours with the child during the day as possible.

Ultimately, the court awarded sole legal and physical custody to Sarah, with “reasonable rights parenting time” to Bridget. The court considered the best-interest factors in favor of Sarah.

In the best interest analysis, the court expressed a decided preference for Sarah as the stay-at-home caretaker because Sarah “has closer parental and emotional ties to AB than does Bridget by virtue of being able to spend significantly more time with her.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody before – most recently about problems with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike Michigan for example, Florida does not use the term “custody” anymore, we have the parenting plan concept. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

Similar to Michigan’s statute, in Florida, the best interests of the child are determined by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including the mental and physical health of the parents.

Some of those factors include similar language, The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity, and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.

Bingo Bango

The family court in Michigan held that changing primary physical custody to the working parent would destroy the established custodial environment with the non-working parent. Conversely reducing the working parent’s time sharing was not such a drastic change that it would destroy the established custodial environment.

The appeals court reversed, finding that the family judge erroneously weighed the best interest factors  in the stay at home parent’s favor by finding she “has closer parental and emotional ties to [AB] than does the working parent by virtue of being able to spend significantly more time with her.”

The court also reversed because the judge concluded the non-working parent will enable her to be far better able to provide her with love, affection and guidance than the working parent, who spends much of her days at work.

The fact that the parties agreed before conceiving that one parent would stay at home to raise the child while the other would financially support the family does not equate with one parent loving the child more or having more affection for the child.

Despite treating Bridget as a less viable parent because she chose to work outside the home, the court declined to credit Bridget for her ability and willingness to earn an income and provide health insurance for her child.

Good Coronavirus Information

The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century to protect coastal cities from the plague. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which mean 40 days.

After more than 40-days in quarantine, Florida and other states are ready to disembark and dip their toes into re-openings. Re-openings will happen mostly in stages in line with recommendations from many health experts and economists.

The big concern at this point is, as we creep back to normal, are which activities create the risk of a rebound?

Dr. Anthony Fauci estimated that the country is conducting approximately 1.5 million to 2 million Covid-19 tests per week, and it is likely the testing capacity could be doubled within the next several weeks.

Careful planning to manage the virus is crucial because it will likely still be one to two years before a coronavirus vaccine is developed and ready for large-scale production.

The Michigan appellate opinion is here.


Religious School and Custody

When two parents with equal custody disagree about sending their kids to religious school, how does a court decide? A couple from Nevada just found out if courts must choose the religious school over the secular one.

Religious or Secular School?

A Nevada couple agreed to joint custody of their two children, to send their children to private school, and equally split the cost of private school tuition and costs for the minor children. But, they disagreed about which school.

The Father wanted his daughter to attend a religious private school, Faith Lutheran. He said it was in her best interest because she was used to private schooling, she wanted to enroll there, and it had a high college placement rate.

The Mother objected to her child receiving a religious education at Faith Lutheran. She argued that she should attend the local public school, Bob Miller Middle School, which was highly ranked for academics and closer to the daughter’s primary residence.

The trial court concluded that both schools were good, and didn’t make any findings that one was better, but chose the public school “because it was ‘taking into consideration the Mother’s religious objection.”

The mother appealed, saying her religious objection should categorically trump because courts can’t indoctrinate a child with their religious views, particularly over the objection of a parent.

Private School Tuition

I’ve written about the intersection of private school and child custody before. Very often the issue is should a parent have to pay for private school (religious or not).

Pursuant to Florida Statutes, a trial court cannot order a parent to contribute to private school expenses unless it first finds that:

(1) the parties have the ability to pay such expenses
(2) the expenses are in accordance with the customary standard of living of the parties, and
(3) attendance at private school is in the child’s best interest.

If parents are unable to reach an agreement with respect to the payment of tuition, a judge will review the evidence you present and make a decision.

If this becomes necessary, the judge will review all of the financial aspects of the case, including each parent’s income, the history of paying certain expenses and the schools themselves.

The Constitution and Religious Schools

Sometimes tuition cost is not the problem though, religion itself is. The Nevada Supreme Court rejected the mother’s argument:

“The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.” Neutrality means that the court “may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of no-religion.”

The court can violate this principle of neutrality when it treats one parent’s religious objection as dispositive when deciding between a religious school and a nonreligious school.

In the Nevada case, the family court disfavored religion rather than acting neutrally toward it. In ordering that the daughter attend a nonreligious school, the only explanation the court provided was that it had taken into consideration religious objection.

However, there were no findings regarding the child’s best interest and appears to have treated the Mother’s religious objection as dispositive in an attempt to avoid constitutional issues related to religion.

In trying to steer clear of constitutional issues, however, the district court collided head-on with the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause by disfavoring religion.

Neutrality, under the Constitution means that the father doesn’t have a right to demand that his child go to a religious school and the mother have a right to demand that the child go to a secular school. Courts have to decide issues like this on a basis other than the school’s religiosity.

The article from Reason is here.


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.

Homeschooling and Child Custody

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.