When Education Law and Custody Cases Intersect

If a child custody case involves a child’s education needs, a court may consider the following:

1. Whether the Parents have Joint Legal Custody?

Joint custody gives each parent an equal voice in making major decisions about a child’s health education and welfare. A major decision relating to education may involve consideration of whether a child attends public or private school. It may also consider whether or not a child has special education needs that relate to a learning disability.

2. Whether the Child has Special Education Needs?

In making orders relating to a child’s special education needs, the court normally defers to the school’s recommendations. The school however may require that parents with joint legal custody agree to the initial Individualized Education Program (IEP) addressing the child’s special education needs.

3. Whether the Child attends Public or Private School?

In determining whether a child has a particular educational need, a court may also consider whether a child attends or remains in a special or private school, and whether the parents are required to contribute to that expense. Additional factors considered by the court may include the following:

(1) the child’s educational history; (2) the child’s performance while in the private school; (3) family history; (4) whether the parents had made the choice to send the child to the school prior to their divorce; (5) any particular factor that may exist in a specific case that might impact upon the child’s best interests; and (6) the parent’s ability to pay for the schooling. Id. at 170-71.Fuge v. Fuge, 146 Md. App. 142, 806 A.2d 716, 2002 Md. App. LEXIS 141 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2002)

Absent a court order or an agreement consenting to the child’s attending private school, a custodial parent who unilaterally decides he/she may be required to pay the entire amount of the school’s tuition.

In any custody case, the court must consider what is in the “Child’s Best Interest”. In situations that involve the child’s education, the court may consider the above factors along with the factors set out in Taylor v. Taylor.

Statutory Authority:

“[The] IDEA provides procedural rights to parents to ensure their involvement in decisions about their disabled child’s education.” Sellers v. Sch. Bd. of City of Mannassas, Va., 141 F.3d 524, 527 (4th Cir. 1998). Those protections included provisions requiring parental access to records and “participate in meetings with respect to identification, evaluation, and educational placement of the child, and the provision of a free appropriate public education to such child.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(b)(1).

Family Law § 12-204(i) Provides that a court may order that any expenses incurred for attending a special or private elementary or secondary school to meet the particular educational needs of the children be divided between the parents in proportion to their adjusted actual incomes. Fuge v. Fuge, 146 Md. App. 142, 806 A.2d 716, 2002 Md. App. LEXIS 141 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 2002). The Court will not order expenses unless there is an agreement or special requirement for the child to attend a private elementary or secondary school.

Case Law:

Taylor v. Taylor, 306 Md. 290, 508 A.2d 964 (1986)

Provides that all parents have the right to access to medical and school records of a minor child unless a court orders otherwise.

Turner v. Well, 2009 Md. Cir. Ct. LEXIS 46 (Md. Cir. Ct. 2009)

The Court found that consistent with the best interest of the child a provision to make a notice requirement to allow the non custodial parent to attend any future IEP meetings regarding the child. The court revised the order to require the plaintiff to provide the defendant with at least fourteen (14) days notice of any of the child’s scheduled IEP meetings.

If you have an issue relating to child custody and education law issues, you should consult with an attorney.

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