What are a non-custodial parent’s rights to their child at school?

Jessica M. Heiser

Author: Jessica M. Heiser

POST DATE: 3.31.16
Ccha  Education Law

Can my ex-husband’s new girlfriend really pick up our kids after school?

In Indiana, there are two types of custody: legal custody (the authority and responsibility for major decisions concerning the child’s upbringing, such as education or health care) and physical custody (where the child resides and is supervised). Both kinds of custody can be either joint or sole. If one parent has sole legal physical custody, that parent can make all decisions regarding the child’s education, whereabouts, etc. Typically, courts grant divorced or separated parents joint legal custody and joint physical custody, but the child lives with one parent most of the time (this parent is known as the “custodial parent”) and stays with the other parent occasionally (this parent is known as the “noncustodial parent”).

Parents are responsible for providing the school with a copy of the divorce decree or the signed court order outlining custody arrangements, and providing copies whenever the agreement is updated. The School will defer to the court order. If the court order is unclear, the School will redirect the parent(s) back to the court for clarification.

The Indiana Parenting Time Guidelines (IPTG) set minimums for sharing physical custody, such as the child will spend every other weekend with the non-custodial parent and the parents will divide school breaks and holidays evenly. Parents can also create their own schedule by agreement.

Generally, the parent who has physical custody may pick up the child after school on “their day.” For example, for a child who lives with her mother most of the time (making Mom the custodial parent) but spends every Wednesday and every other weekend with her father (making Dad the noncustodial parent), then Dad can pick her up after school on Wednesdays. This also means that Dad could send someone else he trusts – such as Dad’s girlfriend or Dad’s sister – to pick up the child on Wednesdays with written authorization. But if Dad wanted to pick up the student up on a Friday (not “his day”), Dad would need written permission from Mom. Since the School places a high priority on the student’s safety, it is reasonable for the School to require written, signed authorization from either parent before they send a third party to pick up the child. In addition, it is reasonable for the School to call either parent or hold the student at school if they have questions about the identity of the person sent to pick up the student.

However, a parent may not be permitted to pick up their child if there is a Protective Order or signed court order in place limiting the parent’s access to the child or school. School officials should ask the parents or check https://mycourts.in.gov/porp to see if a Protective Order is in place.

Schools are not arbitrators of family issues. If the school official has a concern about the child’s safety, local law enforcement or Department of Child Services should be contacted. The School will always err on the side of caution to protect the safety of the child. 

What about volunteering at school and access to school records?

The IPTG state that each parent is responsible for establishing their own relationship with the School and neither parent should interfere with the rights of the other parent to communicate directly with school staff concerning the child. IPTG states that the noncustodial parent shall be listed as an emergency contact, unless there are special circumstances concerning child endangerment. IPTG dictates that a parent shall not interfere with the opportunity of the other parent to volunteer for or participate in a child’s activities, even if the activity does not occur during his or her parenting time. Of course, Schools have the authority to ensure that parent volunteers abide by all School policies and procedures regarding volunteers.

Under Indiana Code § 20-33-7-2 and the federal statute Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) (20 U.S.C. § 1232g; 34 CFR Part 99), both the custodial and noncustodial parent are entitled to review their child’s educational records, unless there is a signed court order that specifically revokes a parent’s rights to access the child’s records. If a parent wants to review their child’s educational records, they should contact the School district and proceed according to School policy.

While the IPTG dictates that each parent should obtain school information on their own without depending on the other parent, it is best practice for the school official to inform the other parent when providing copies of school records by parental request.