I realize this is an Oklahoma legal issue that just recently came up. However, with more and more parents home schooling, it will only be a matter of time before it reaches other states like Georgia. Thanks to the Oklahoma Family Law Blog for the heads up on this issue.
In making custody decisions, Oklahoma law prohibits a judge from giving a preference or a presumption for or against home schooling, private schooling, or public schooling.’ ‘See 43 O.S. 112 (C)(4).
The home-schooling issue was addressed in the case of Stephen v. Stephen. There, the parties were granted an uncontested divorce with the mother being awarded custody of their two boys. Several years later, mom quit her job to educate the boys at home. In response, dad filed a motion to modify custody alleging that mom was not qualified to teach the children, and that a home-school education was not in their best interests.
During a five-day hearing, the evidence showed that the children responded well to home schooling, they tested well in the Iowa test, and the mother was an excellent and insightful teacher. However, the trial transcript clearly shows that the judge was openly biased against home schooling. In fact, while stating’ that the children were probably better off with mom, the judge held that mom was not qualified to educate her children at home. The trial court went on to find that mom’s home schooling was a substantial change of circumstances adversely affecting the best interests of the children. Unbelievably, the judge ruled that unless mom placed the children in public school, custody would be awarded to dad.
Can you say ‘abuse of discretion?’ The Oklahoma Supreme Court said exactly that when it found that the trial judge’s bias against home schooling caused the judge to rule in a manner clearly against the weight of the evidence.
The appellate court noted the substantial evidence regarding dad’s drinking problem, that dad had to be taken to court once to collect past due child support, that dad did not regularly visit the boys until after he filed his motion to change custody, that dad did not keep his appointments when he did promise to visit them, and that when he had them at his home for visitation he left them alone during the day and checked on them by phone. In contrast, mom who had had custody of the boys for eight years, gave up a $50,000 a year job to stay home to give the boys a better education and more behavioral supervision than she believed that they were receiving in the public school system.
Thank God for courts of appeal. At least on this occasion, a wrong was righted and justice prevailed.