The School's Role in Custody Disputes

By Edwin C. Darden

Any public school principal will tell you that families come in all varieties: divorced biological parents, foster parents, relatives, same-sex partners, stepparents, and even emancipated minors.

For school district officials, who must gain consent for everything from releasing records to allowing school trips, sorting out the question of who has authority to say yes or no is a challenge that means scurrying for answers in both law and policy.

This column focuses on the “non-custodial parent” -- the biological mother or father who no longer lives with the student and does not possess some of the legal rights that might otherwise apply. The key is not just residency, however, but custody, a concept that grants legal responsibility for a minor to a supervising adult. When a court awards legal custody of a child to one person, it is a powerful right.

An example is found in an April 2009 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the dashed hopes of a father who wanted what’s best for his son. 

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