SARASOTA -- When parents head to a Manatee or Sarasota county school to enroll their child, the parent who physically signs the enrollment form may have more influence over the child's education if the marriage heads south later.
That's why it's especially important for divorce and family law lawyers to set their clients up with educational plans detailing who has the right to make education decisions for children when working with their clients, lawyers from both districts told members of the Sarasota County Bar Assocation on Tuesday. When divorced or separated parents fall on the opposite sides of issues -- like where their child attends school and who has permission to dismiss the child from school -- the schools go back to who enrolled the child unless they have information from the educational plan saying otherwise.
Often, the lawyers said, parents may not even realize this when they enroll their child, especially if the marriage is happy at that time.
"We have to look to one person to give us answers when the parents disagree," Sarasota County School District lawyer Art Hardy said. "That's the tie-breaker we've chosen to use"
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Manatee County School District Staff Attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum agreed.
"The unspoken rule is by default, we go to the enrolling parent," he said.
Family law attorneys peppered the school district lawyers with questions about how to avoid such situations and how to look out for their client's best interest. The answer, according to Hardy and Teitelbaum, is to have detailed educational plans, because the schools will follow what is spelled out in those.
One of the most common problems? The enrolling parent will pull the other parent -- or the other parent's new spouse or significant other -- off the pick up list. If the parent's right to pick up their child after school isn't spelled out in the educational plan, the schools will go with the enrolling parent's decision unless a new court order is produced.
Lawyers and mediators can write some provision that a parent can never be removed from the pick up list, Teitelbaum said, which would keep it from becoming a problem in the future.
No matter who enrolled the student, both parents have the right to access their students educational records, the lawyers said, unless there's a court order specifically stripping the parent of that right. Most of the time, information is sent to the enrolling parent, but access is given to the non-enrolling parent if they ask for it, Hardy said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.