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Back to School: A Father's Perspective

"Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring." -Truman Capote from Breakfast at Tiffany's

September signifies the end of summer as we shift into autumn. And with that, as Truman Capote so elegantly implies, a new beginning occurs. For some this beginning is simply an end to the more relaxed days of summer and a return to routine and structure. For others, autumn represents the beginning of a new national past time, just as an old favorite grinds towards conclusion. And for parents of school-aged children, September represents an annual rite of passage-the start of a new school year.

As the father of a Kindergartner, our first "back to school" rush has been somewhat similar to the fervor experienced at the holidays. Between uniforms, pencils, notebooks, erasers, etc. one can invest substantial time and money in ensuring that their children receive a compulsory education. While sending our children back to another school year can certainly be stressful, the pressures and challenges confronting separated and divorced parents can be significant and at times overwhelming.

As a general proposition, legally both parents are presumed to share custody unless there is a court order stating otherwise in effect. "Custody" refers to two separate and distinct concepts: legal custody and physical custody. When a court is deciding which parent a child will physically live with for a period of time-that is, in essence, physical custody. Legal custody involves major decision-making such as where a child will go to school, whether they will observe a particular religion or theology, who their medical providers will be and under what circumstances they will receive medical treatment, etc.

Deciding where our children will attend school at times involves painstaking deliberation. For many of us, our options are limited by circumstances and factors outside of our control. What, for instance, do you do where the public school option is better in the area where the parent without primary physical custody resides? And if you have been paying for private school, will you continue to send the children to there, and if so, who is going to be responsible for the tuition? What if your ex is adamant about religious training and you are not? These are but a few of the issues that can arise in the context of going back to school.

Another common theme involves one parent withholding information pertaining to the children's education, or refusing to allow the other parent to access that information. Where both parents share legal custody, both parents are entitled to all information relating to the children's education such as academic reports, Individualized Education Plans, etc. Issues like these are all too common in family law and an experienced attorney can help explain your rights and advocate on your behalf. If you have questions about your custody rights please contact the attorneys at The Law Office of Diana C. Schimmel, Esquire.

This entry written by Associate Attorney Michael B. Prasad.  Attorney Prasad works along side Attorney Schimmel and focuses his practice on all areas of family law.

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