Thursday, March 12, 2009

Homeschooling Influences Child Custody Cases

Update 3/12/09: World Net Daily covers the case of Judge orders homeschoolers into public district classrooms. This is another case of a homeschooling family, Venessa Mills, and divorce. It is very similar to the case listed below. The father is no longer interested in homeschooling and the mother wants to continue, with the father footing the bill. The World Net Daily article compares the case to many cases where states try to negate a family's homeschooling at the desire of the state. This is completely different. The state has been appointed arbiter by the family as consequence of a divorce. As I point out below, if the parents cannot agree and it goes to court to be decided, then they are asking the court to step in and determine who's opinions to support. That the father had an affair is regrettable, but that doesn't mean that he cannot have a say in how his children are educated. The judge DID NOT order the children to public school on a whim. From what I can tell, the father is unwilling to continue with the home education.

There seems to be a number of websites that automatically assume that because the husband cheated, that the wife should have the right to any remuneration that would allow her to continue homeschooling. I don't agree with this at all. First, we don't know if there were other issues in the marriage. Second, having an affair does not mean that the husband should be treated only like a bank account. Third, since no custody arrangements had been made, both parents still have a right to offer ideas about raising the children (with disagreements being settled by the court--if they could agree it would not have been an issue with the judge), even if the husband cheated. The father's views should not be negated immediately nor should the mother's views be definitively upheld. That two of the kids were testing above grade level is wonderful, but, as homeschoolers know, grade-level learning is only part of homeschooling and may not weight heavily against other issues like cost (whether we like it or not).

Original post 1/13/09 below:

They aren't new, but they are new to me. Volokh Conspiracy blogger Orin Kerr notes two cases where homeschooling is used to help decide custody cases. In one case, the judge specifically states that the State should not assume that either method of schooling is preferable. The other case has been appealed because the judge entered a preference for public school in the official record while deciding the case:

    According to the record, the “lynch pin” of the trial court’s decision to send the minor child to a public school was MCL 722.23(j), which considers the “willingness and ability of each of the parties to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent ....”

    The record amply supports the trial court’s conclusion that the two parents simply “do not communicate,” and that the mother’s desire to homeschool the child would result in the father being precluded from having any “say or involvement in his child’s education.”
    In the course of rendering this decision, the trial court made the following observations:

  1. Public schools would offer the child a “wider exposure” than she would receive with homeschooling.

  2. Public schools would offer “much more diversity, many more opportunities with respect to the things that she would be able to do.”

  3. Although the court “appreciate[d] and respect[ed] [the mother’s] desire to have a religious-based schooling, we live in a very diverse society and it is not beneficial for children to be raised in a bubble where they do not have exposure to other people’s cultures and other people’s religion.”

  4. Public schooling would make the child “a more well-rounded person.”
My opinion? Both parents in joint custody should have a say in their child's education--with the needs of the primary caretaker having more weight. If the parents cannot agree and do not have a good relationship, then it seems that they are inviting the court to make such a decision for them. I would also like to see a parent be able to contest the other parent's decision when the child is obviously not doing well, be it in homeschool, private school, or public school.

The judge in the case quoted is obviously biased against homeschooling, having so many old-saw stereotypes in his opinion, and that is a shame. He should certainly have been presented with good information about homeschooling, and required to weigh it appropriately, prior to making a judgment.

1 comment:

A CT homeschooler said...


having been through a divorce myself and watching other people do the same, there is a big problem within the courts. There is no requirement that the courts actually use anything other than the opinion of the judge in making a decision. There is a tendency to go with stereotypes for what homeschooling is. Unfortunately, it's rather hard to give the judge what might be considered a balanced view when they are viewing the case as largely he said/she said. The judge can also order a guardian ad litem for the kids, and guess what - they don't need to learn about homeschooing either.

I've also seen more than a few fathers claim that they were against homeschooling all along only at the time of a divorce.

I say father because I've yet to personally see a divorce situation where the primary educator is the father, likely due to the relative numbers.

I'd agree with the idea of both having a say, but I've also seen a number of cases where one parent gets pissed at the other and starts to use homeschooling as a leverage tool. I had it happen to me after mediation wherein it was agreed that the kids would homeschool and that it was in their best interest. He wanted major changes to an already mediated agreement and went for the jugular by suggesting that if I didn't agree, he'd demand the kids (always homeschooled - 13 and 10) be put into public school at the start of the school year - two weeks away.

The courts are supposed to be looking at the child's best interest, and I don't feel that they do this if they don't really look at what homeschooling is. I agree with you that they should be required to do so. Maybe that's something that we can work on the legislature to change.

I can't imagine a judge ordering a child in a divorce case into a different public school as part of that divorce to foster more diversity or more opportunity.

Believe me, I was not inviting the courts to make parenting decisions for me, but I knew that it was possible and that they courts had no interest in truly looking at my child's best interest. Divorce was not taken lightly, nor without preliminary steps. Sometimes though, you just find out that the person you married wasn't anywhere near what they proclaimed they were.

The courts don't take joint decisions about family income or job changes into account either. All that the primary breadwinner has to say is that they were against the decisions and that's largely the end of the story in too many cases I've seen. CT says that the contributions of a stay at home parent to the family's overall well being and income are to be considered, but reality is very different.