Family and Education lawyer John Schuman was asked the following question:
What are the legal penalties for someone who has filled out an Ontario elementary school registration form with false information concerning a court child custody order?
This question is a good one because it touches on the intersection between schools, parents, kids and the law when parents separate. Parents separating can cause a lot of stress and tension for other people as well.
First, it is critical to remember that the school, the principal, the teachers, and the school board do not want anything to do with your separation or divorce. If you think any of them are going to “take sides” and support you, then you are wrong. Most school boards have policies that prevent them from becoming involved in disputes between parents. This does not mean that Family Court Judges do not find the thoughts and observations of teachers useful when deciding which parent gets custody. But, nobody wants them involved (I will mention how to get the useful information below).
The most important reason why schools will not become involved in disputes between parents is that schools are the kids’ “space.” School is more than just a child’s “workplace.” It is the center of their social lives, it is where they develop an identity independent of their parents, it can be the center of their non-academic activities and, during times of parental conflict, it is often their sanctuary away from that. So, it is very important that fights between parents do not use the school as the battleground. Section 305 of the Ontario Education Act and Ontario Regulation 474/00 give principals the authority to bar any parent from entering school premises because he or she has done anything to upset any pupil. If a principal does that, a Family Court Judge is sure to notice.
With that said, it is very important for schools to know what the current custody order says. This helps the school avoid making mistakes that can create tensions between parents or can even allow a parent to abduct a child. It also avoids having the school hand off the child to the wrong parent – or to a parent who is not supposed to visit the child or go to the school. While it is important for schools to get copies of court orders that relate to the school, it is important that parents do not use those orders as weapons.
If the school has a copy of a court order that it should not have, or that is no longer valid, parents can do something about it. Section 266(4) of the Education Act allows parents to request in writing that the principal remove any inaccurate information from a student’s record. If the principal does not remove the information, then a School Board superintendent can hold a hearing to determine whether the information should be removed. The Ontario School Record Guideline sets the test for whether a document or information should be removed from a child’s OSR. Any document that is “no longer conducive to the improvement of the instruction of the student” should be removed from a student’s school record. Therefore, a principal should remove any expired, repealed, or irrelevant court order from a student’s record. That should get the court order out.
When deciding custody cases, judges need evidence, and they really like the evidence of impartial professionals. The observations of those professionals of the behavior of the parties, and more importantly, how a child is doing, can really influence a judge when deciding custody cases. But, judges do not want educators put in the middle. Section 35 of the Ontario Evidence Act allows judges to admit into evidence any record that a teacher (or other professional) has made “in the ordinary course of business” without having the teacher testify. Those are any records that someone does as part of their job and not for the purposes of any form of litigation (including disputes in Family Court.) So, judges will look at report cards, school attendance records, school IPRC reports, individual education plans, school forms and school emails that are not directly about the custody/access dispute. Those can give the judge a really clear picture of what is going on, how involved each parent is, and whether either parent is being a “problem.”
A parent who is being a “problem” or whose actions are having an adverse impact on a child can get into big trouble in family court. Not being supportive of the other parent, acting unilaterally with respect to the children (especially in contravention of a court order) and not putting the children’s needs first are some of the best ways for a parent to lose custody of children
It is often possible to get these helpful school records without involving any school personnel directly in the Family Court Fight and, most importantly, without bringing the fight to the child’s school and sanctuary from the parent’s fighting.
You can learn a bit more about the family court process by watching this video or listening to these podcasts (iTunes version here).
You can get a lot more information about Ontario Family Law issues, including a further explanation of child custody issues and tips to help you and protect your child in and out of court, by downloading this $9.99 e-book for Kindle, Kobo, or iPad/iPhone/Mac or ordering the paperback version. But, to keep out of trouble, it is always best to speak with a good family law lawyer.
On school issues, it can also be helpful to get speak to a lawyer who knows about education law.