Homeschooling and Child Custody: When Parents Disagree
- Thursday, July 12, 2012
4. The “Parental Strife” Factor
Family court judges worry about the impact of parental conflict on children. A court might forbid homeschooling if it believes teaching at home will harm the other parent’s rights. In Taylor v. Taylor, a Michigan court decided a case where the divorced parents’ interactions had fully deteriorated; they could not even discuss their child. The judge believed homeschooling would “excise” the father from his child’s education due to this failure to communicate. The court ordered the child into public school. In another case, Clark v. Reiss, an Arkansas court prevented a divorced mother from homeschooling because it would have required a modification to the father’s visitation schedule. The court wanted to protect the father’s rights with his child.
Judges are more receptive to homeschooling where parents do not exclude each other from home education. For instance, the Browncourt praisedthe homeschooling father for his efforts to keep his ex-wife informed of her child’s educational progress and for agreeing that she could come to class on occasion. The judge felt this openness to the mother’s participation would make homeschooling possible without harming her rights. This case illustrates the benefits of avoiding parental strife over homeschooling and of allowing parental access.
5. The Religion Factor
Finally, religion can become controversial in some homeschool custody cases. Though it may seem unfair, religious parents must be ready to show the judge that their faith is not harmful to child development. Over the years, judges have struggled to balance the proper role of religion in determining custody. The problem becomes even thornier when a divorced, unwed, or re-married “religious” parent wishes to homeschool. A judge who disapproves of the parent’s religious practices might assign education decisions to the other parent. That is one argument Brenda made in the Kurowskicase;other parents have experienced similar problems.
In Snider v. Mashburn, an Alabama court clearly disliked the religious zeal of a Baptist homeschooling mother. The court first stripped custody from her and gave it to her ex-husband, who had more “liberal” religious views. The judge went on to issue a gag order: during visitation time with her daughter, the mother was forbidden from providing “any religious training . . . which would otherwise be disparaging or critical of in any way the beliefs of the Father.”
Similarly, in In re Marriage of Epperson, a Montana court granted the “less-religious” father sole legal custody of his children instead of the homeschooling mother. The court mocked the religion of the parents, who belonged to the Tridentine Catholic order, an offshoot of Roman Catholicism. The judge described them as “isolated religious fundamentalists,” and said their “off beat” religion had some “screwball aspects.” The judge commended the father for being less “inflexible” in his religion, while denouncing the mother for being more interested in “indoctrination” than education.
This is a controversial area where fundamental rights are at stake and where parents must beware of judicial prejudices. Does the judge disapprove of certain religious practices? Does the judge view “religious intolerance” as harmful to the child? When religion becomes an issue, homeschooling parents need to show the court that their faith will not harm their child’s development.
Today’s complex romantic relationships have created many varieties of “non-couples,” whether unwed, divorced, or re-married. As Brenda Kurowski discovered, these parents are at risk to lose their right to homeschool. Luckily, they are not alone in this fight. There are homeschool organizations and legal defense groups that may be able to help. And with an understanding of the five factors discussed in this article, these parents can reduce the risk to their homeschool by making sure their child’s education program is legally defensible.
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