By Mike Gora
Q: We have twin girls. We lived in another state until the girls were in second grade. We then moved to Boca Raton, so that I could take a job offer, a significant advancement in my career.
My, wife, who had been teaching elementary school in our old home state, looked into public elementary school education in our neighborhood. She was not happy about what she found. We cannot afford a private school. She suggested home schooling the children.
I am against it, and told her so. I didn’t want the girls to grow up and be educated without having the benefit of having to deal with other children of the same age, and teachers who were not their parents. We compromised. We agreed that the girls could be home schooled, through fifth grade, but would go to a public middle school, and high school when the time came. Our agreement was not written.
Our daughters have completed fifth grade for the 2012-2013 school year. My wife and I are going through a divorce, in which I filed the petition. She has, conveniently forgotten our verbal agreement, and insists that she be allowed to continue home schooling, at least through middle school, and, perhaps, high school, which I do not want her to do. Can the judge in our divorce case address this issue?
A: Your children’s best interests must be taken into consideration by the judge. That consideration will, if properly raised by the pleadings, include the school issues. If your petition for dissolution of your marriage does not specifically raise this issue, your lawyer should file an amended petition.
If your petition did not raise the issue but your wife’s counter-petition did, that would be sufficient once you denied her request in your answer to her counter-petition.
Since your daughters are half way through fifth grade, the judge will have time to decide what happens next, before your girls are ready to enter middle school, next fall. Your attorney and your wife’s counsel will have to be prepared to put on a case that addresses either of the judge’s choices.
The judge can either make a choice between the public middle school and home schooling based upon an evaluation of the success of the home schooling verses the quality of the middle school available in your neighborhood. The State ofFloridagrades the schools through the FCAT process. Testing is available for children being home schooled.
If the judge goes in that direction he, or she, may want the decision to cover high school as well, unless you and your wife can agree on that issue in advance. The judge is going to look for a way to end the case that will not bring it back into court after three years, for a high school determination.
The second alternative available to the judge would be to delegate to one of you, total control over all educational matters, even though you will have shared parental responsibility on other matters. Your or your wife would, under such a final judgment, not be required to consult or agree with the other on any further school decisions.
There is no way to accurately predict which method the judge will use. Your wife may have an edge, as a schoolteacher. However, if progress tests show that your children under perform public school children in progress tests, you may be the parent selected to make the decisions.
It would be wise to have private and/or public testing, or both given to you daughters, as soon as possible, so that this issue can be intelligently litigated and discussed when you sit down with your attorneys and a mediator.
Michael H. Gora has been certified by the Board of Specialization and Education of The Florida Bar as a specialist in family and matrimonial law, and is a partner with Shapiro Blasi Wasserman & Gora P.A. in Boca Raton. Gora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.