Legal Question Of The Week - Week Of 9/27/13

By Attorney Thomas B. Mooney, Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut

The "Legal Question of the Week" is a regular feature of the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. We invite readers to submit short, law-related questions of practical concern to school administrators. Each week, we will select a question and publish an answer. While these answers cannot be considered formal legal advice, they may be of help to you and your colleagues. We may edit your questions, and we will not identify the authors. Please submit your questions to:

Dear Legal Mailbag:

Custody issues have been keeping me very busy lately. Joint custody seems to be the order of the day, but every so often I see an order that gives one parent sole custody. When I see such orders, I wonder what the non-custodial parent did wrong to lose custody. In any event, some of these non-custodial parents seem to think that they are still entitled to be treated as parents by the school. Some want school notices and even confidential educational records. What would you suggest that I say to put these non-custodial parents in their proper place?

Letting Them Down Easy

Dear Letting:

Your approach to non-custodial parents is unfair. Family court judges make decisions on the basis of the best interests of the child. Depending on living arrangements, time and resources, custody may be granted to only one parent, often without objection. You should not draw any inferences about non-custodial parents.

In addition, you are wrong on the law. There is an important public policy in favor of keeping non-custodial parents involved in the lives of their children. The statutes reflect that public policy in (at least) three different ways. Under Connecticut law, a non-custodial parent may not be denied access to “academic, medical, hospital or other health records of such minor child unless otherwise ordered by the court for good cause shown.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-56(g). Similarly, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-15b(a) provides that either parent or a legal guardian is entitled to “all educational, medical, or similar records maintained in such student's cumulative record.” Moreover, upon request a parent with whom the student does not primarily reside is entitled to receive copies of all “school notices” at the same time they are mailed to the parent with whom the student does reside. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-15b(b). Any such request is valid for the time the student is at that school. I hope that this information helps you to respect the rights of non-custodial parents and not give them a hard time. Understood?