Custody Agreements and School Decisions

By Caitlin DiCresce

The Legal Aid Society of Columbus

When parents are raising their children in separate households, it can impact their children’s schooling. Parents often wonder who gets to make the final decisions about school issues for their children. If the parents have a custody order from the Domestic or Juvenile Court, they can look to those orders to answer questions about how to handle a child’s education and educational decision-making. If parents are using an informal schedule and have not involved the court system, some of these questions still have simple answers.

While each family structure is different, this blog will discuss the most common situations involving separated parents. This blog only includes information about Ohio law. Other states may handle these situations differently.

(1) Parents who were never married and who do not have a custody order
In Ohio, unmarried mothers have full custody of their children. If the father wants formal parenting time or custody, he must file a case with the Juvenile Court. Without a court order, the unmarried mother can make all decisions for the children, including ones about school.

(2) Parents who are married, but separated without a divorce and custody order
When married parents separate, but have not filed for divorce or custody orders, they both are the legal custodians of their shared children. This means that both parents have the right to make decisions about the children, including where they will enroll in school and what services they will receive to support their education. This can be a confusing situation, especially if the parents disagree about what educational decisions may be best for their children.

(3) Parents who have a custody order, either through a divorce or custody case
When parents have a custody order through the Domestic or Juvenile Court, that custody order will explain each parent’s rights when it comes to their child’s education. There are two separate issues involved for education issues in a custody order: (a) which parent’s address will be used for school enrollment and (b) which parent can make educational decisions for the child.

Custody orders will solve the first question – enrollment address – by designating one parent the “residential parent for school purposes.” This means only that the children will attend school based on that parent’s address.

Educational decision-making is also addressed in a custody order. The orders can either designate one parent as the educational decision-maker, or they can let parents share equally in the decision-making process. (This sharing of decision-making authority is often referred to as “shared parenting.”) When parents share the ability to make school decisions, they must communicate with one another, discuss the options available for their children, and should come to an agreement about the decision together. Sometimes, custody orders say that if parents cannot reach an agreement, a third party makes the decision, like the school administrator.

Regardless of whether there is a custody order in place, it is important for parents to work together to make educational decisions that are appropriate for their children. Children often benefit from having both parents involved in their education and school activities. Additional information about custody and shared parenting can be found on the LASC Family Law Team webpage.

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