My husband and I have recently divorced. Our lawyers have worked out a settlement and child support until our children turn 18 (one is 10 and the other 13). Who makes the school-education decisions? Do these things need to be spelled out? Can you elaborate a bit about how we deal with questions regarding education now that we are no longer a couple?
There are some common issues that come up for children when parents are divorced or separated. Some are as simple as who can sign a permission slip for a school trip, and some are more complex, such as who can file for a due process hearing for a disagreement with the Committee on Special Education’s program for your child.
In cases of divorce it is a good idea for parents to sit down together or with a mediator to determine who will make education decisions for the children and how any dispute between the parents will be resolved. You may also do this with your respective attorneys.
Depending upon what you agree to, both parents can retain the right to make education decisions for their child, one parent can make all the decisions, or you may decide to have something in-between. For example, both parents may have to agree about major education decisions — such as school placement or agreement with a program for a special education student — but either parent can sign permission slips, tests, contact the teacher, and meet with school personnel about the child’s performance.
You should also spell out in your agreement which parent will have access to your child’s education records — will it be both or just one?
The school district will look to the court order or the agreement of the parents to determine who has the right to make education decisions for the child and what to do in case there is a dispute between the parents. Usually, in case parents cannot agree, the school district will determine who the custodial parent is based on the agreement or divorce decree and allow that parent to make decisions. In special education matters where both parents retain education rights, the school district must hold a due process hearing if one parent disagrees and requests an impartial hearing.
In many cases of divorce, both parents see the child an equal amount of time. As long as your child resides with each parent approximately 50 percent of the time, you and your ex may select the school district your child attends. Your agreement should spell this out so that it is clear that you have agreed to have equal time with your child and that your child may attend school where either you or your ex reside.
There are some cases in which one or both parents have been ordered by a court to have no contact with their children, which is known as a court-issued order of protection. If your ex has been issued an order of protection, you must provide it to school personnel. Please make sure that you give this order to the correct personnel. Each school district has different personnel who handle orders of protection, so it is a good idea to call the school principal to ask how this is handled at your child’s school. All school personnel who deal with your child should be alerted that there is an order of protection so that your child is safe while at and traveling to and from, school.
As for child support and issues involving college payments, you should consult with your family law attorney. In New York State, children receive child support until the age of 21, not 18.
Deborah Berger is an attorney who concentrates in Education Law. She represents parents and students in Long Island, NY. Visit her online at www.deborahberger.com.