Enrolling a Child in a Different School Without The Other Parent’s Permission

If you are separated from your child’s other parent, many things may become more complicated, including decisions regarding your children and the paperwork required to execute them. In many cases of separated or divorced parents, one or both of you may wonder what you are able to do without the approval of the other, whether this is so that you can make a decision for your child(ren) or because the other parent did so without contacting you. 

Custody agreements can feel complicated. If you find yourself in a situation where you are unsure of what is allowed, it’s time to reach out to a reputable Myrtle Beach family law attorney. At Indigo Family Law, we value the importance of knowing what to expect from your agreement so that you can continue to make the best decisions for your family and your kids. 

Understanding Your Rights as a Parent

In a situation where parents are still married or the custody agreement grants joint custody, both parents have the right to make decisions about their child’s education, including the location of their education. This can change depending on legal interventions such as protective orders or child custody agreements. The South Carolina code section 63-15-210 identifies two types of custody agreements as follows:

  • Joint Custody: This means that both parents have equal rights for all major decisions, such as educational, medical, or religious decisions. In some cases, the judge may determine that one parent will have sole authority to make specific decisions, but both parents would be responsible for all other responsibilities and decisions. 
  • Sole Custody: When one person has complete responsibility and authority for a child’s well-being and affairs, including educational, medical, or religious. This may be a parent but can also be a legal guardian. 

A parent’s specific requirements and responsibilities after a divorce vary based on the specific facts of your case. This is where it may be helpful to have a family law lawyer who knows the system, where things may deviate, and is able to explain what that means to you. Understanding the specifics of your custody agreement will ensure you are not violating it and risking contempt. 

How Does Custody Affect Your Rights

While the types of custody agreements are typically divided into sole and joint, the courts will also determine physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to who the child physically lives with and who is responsible for their day-to-day care. Legal custody refers to the authority to make decisions about school, religion, or medical needs. 

According to the above source, parents will frequently be awarded joint legal custody and sole physical custody. Both parents have the right to make decisions regarding their child, but they will physically reside with one parent. With few exceptions, South Carolina requires minimum visitation or parenting time for the noncustodial parent, but the amount is determined on a case-by-case basis. 

Registering Your Student

When registering your student, the school assumes that you are abiding by any court orders or custody agreements present. This means that you will be able to register your child for school with the following documentation according to the Horry County Schools registration page:

  • Your state ID
  • Proof of residence (This is usually a power bill or bank statement)
  • Child’s birth certificate
  • Vaccination records or exemption form

It is not unheard of for a parent to register a child to reserve a spot in the school before seeking agreement or permission from the other parent. Still, if the other parent disagrees, the issue may be escalated. Your initial step should be to consult the custody order to determine if you have sole or joint legal custody. 

If you have sole legal custody, you can register the child and make educational decisions without consulting the other parent. If you have joint legal custody, the other parent must be involved and give permission. If you cannot decide together, the next step is to bring the issue before a judge whether the child has already been registered. 

Who is Responsible? 

The school is responsible for ensuring that a child is not released to a non-approved person, but they are not required to ensure that the person enrolling the child is allowed to do so. If you are not the parent on the birth certificate, they may ask for further documentation, but they will not ensure the child is registered in accordance with the custody agreement. That responsibility falls on the parent who is registering the child. 

What are the Consequences?

In many cases, the consequences of registering your child for school without permission from the other parent will be internal discussions. It may escalate to mediation or taking the issue before the judge to decide. However, in some more extreme cases where the custody order may be continuously violated, the repercussions may be more severe, including the following.

Contempt of Court

Failure to comply with a court order or custody agreement can result in the violator being held in contempt of court. Most commonly, in family law cases, this is going to be a coercive civil contempt for which the Department of Justice (DOJ) identified the purpose as gaining compliance with the custody agreement. This typically has a conditionally imposed sentence pending compliance with the decree. 

Coercive civil contempt is most common in family court, but other means of enforcement through contempt may be compensatory civil contempt, wherein the goal is compensation. In other cases of disobedience towards the court, the judge may decide to impose criminal contempt in court, which is meant to be a punishment. This may include confinement or a fine as determined appropriate by the judge.

Custodial Interference

Suppose a parent registers their child in a new school after moving out of state or in an attempt otherwise to conceal the child from the other custodial parent. In that case, this may be considered custodial interference. 

South Carolina code 16-17-495  states that custodial interference can result in a variety of punishments and may be considered a misdemeanor or felony depending upon the amount of time the child was ‘concealed’ and whether or not force or violence was used in the act. Legal ramifications of this include: 

  • Felony charge resulting in a fine, imprisonment of up to five years, or both
  • Misdemeanor charge resulting in a fine, imprisonment of up to three years, or both
  • Felony charge that results in a fine, imprisonment up to ten years, or both

Modifying the Custody Order

If one parent enrolls the child in a school without the other’s notification and permission, the custody order may be modified. If the attempt was seen as custodial interference, it may mean a change in physical or legal custody. While modification of the order is not always the first step when one parent is not compliant with a custody arrangement, every case and situation is different. If you have questions or concerns regarding your custody order you should consult with a reputable family law attorney with Indigo Family Law. 

Payment of Fees

If the disregard for a custody order has led your family to come before the judge again, the parent in violation may be required to pay attorney fees and costs. This includes the fees for both parties since the abiding parent wouldn’t have needed an attorney if not for the other party. Failure to make payments may lead to further fines, confinement, or garnished wages. 

Protecting Yourself

Sometimes, these situations may arise without any ill intent. It may have been a parent who genuinely thought the decision was theirs to make or assumed the other parent was on board or wouldn’t care.  Other times, a parent may feel they need to enroll the child in school without the other parent’s approval because they are trying to hide from them or hide the child from them. Regardless of the reasons this happens, it keeps things simple to make sure that you cover yourself with some basic actions.

Communicate clearly with your co-parent in writing regarding anything that has to do with the child’s school, medical appointments, or extracurricular activities. Ensuring that all communication is in writing can protect you if your co-parent claims that they were not informed of something or that they did not consent to something that they did. Different applications are available to help manage these types of situations specifically, or you may set up an e-mail account for this type of communication and include read and delivered receipts for your records. 

Last, perception is a large part of the situation. Therefore, it is crucial to be aware of how you present yourself in public, in court, and on social media. It can be helpful to avoid drugs or alcohol and make sure you always look prepared and put together when you appear in court. 

Speak With a Family Law Attorney in Myrtle Beach

Speaking with an attorney is crucial to developing a careful strategy that minimizes your chance of showing yourself in a bad light. This includes making mistakes, like enrolling your child in school without checking with your co-parent. Mistakes like this can make you seem to be acting maliciously or in bad faith and can have significant repercussions down the road. 

Additionally, an attorney can help you act quickly and firmly and hold your parents accountable if they have been non-compliant or acting in bad faith. Divorce and custody proceedings can be volatile and messy situations that are most effectively handled by an educated professional. Don’t hesitate to book a consultation with Indigo Family Law.