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 parents’ separations or divorces. If a parent thinks that any educator is going to “take sides” and support one parent during a divorce, then that parent will be disappointed. 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 (There are ways to get useful information from educators before the court, which is set out 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If the school has a copy of a court order that it should not have, or that is no longer valid, parents can do something about it.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 behaviour 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 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 co parenting are some of the best ways for a parent to lose custody.
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 get a lot more information about Ontario Family Law issues, including a comprehensive explanation of parenting cases (parenting time and decision making), child support, spousal support, property division, and most other common family law issues by downloading this $9.99 Kindle eBook, Kobo eBook, or iBook for your iPad or iPhone or ordering it from Amazon as a paperback. But to understand how the law works precisely in your situation, it is always best to speak to a good Family Law Lawyer.
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