Divorced couples are having a difficult time navigating the back to school discussion — and the courts aren't helping

Divorced couples are having a difficult time navigating the back to school discussion — and the courts aren't helping
A teacher sits on the floor as she starts to reset up her classroom with new rules on social distancing at Freedom Preparatory Academy as they begin to prepare to restart school after it was closed in March due to COVID-19 on August 5, 2020 in Provo, Utah. The school is planning to have students return on August 18 for five days a week instruction, but with reduced hours during the day.George Frey/Getty Images
  • Back to school decisions are difficult for any family but are complicated much more by divorce
  • The Texas Family Code says that each parent has the right to make decisions regarding their child's education.
  • Courts in Texas are bracing for an onslaught of issues with divorced couples disputing schooling decisions.
  • The Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court told the Houston Chronicle, "this problem is going to bombard the courts."

As schools begin to open up for the new school year amid a global pandemic, law experts are worried about how divorced parents will mutually make education decisions for their children.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott made it clear that local school boards, not local governments, will be in charge of reopening. According to a report from the Houston Chronicle, school boards can choose from fully in-person classes, remote teaching, or some blend of the two. Once the decision has been made by the school board, parents must decide how best to send their child back to school.

Divorce, though, throws an extra wrench in the decision-making process.

Texas State Rep. Gina Calanni told the Houston Chronicle that there was no legal guidance in this situation, and the Texas Supreme Court was unable to provide her with a clear answer. Texas Family Code dictates that the power is ultimately granted to both parents unless the court has otherwise granted those rights exclusively to one parent.

Given the stakes involved with deciding whether to send children to school or have them participate in online learning, it's no surprise that divorced parents, legal experts anticipate divorced parents may seek out the court system for answers.


Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht told the Chronicle he anticipates this quandary may very easily clog up court rooms.

"All the issues that are likely to come up will have to be addressed by a trial judge and who will decide on a case-by-case basis what is in the best interest of the child," Hecht told the Chronicle. "Gina is correct — this problem is going to bombard the courts."

Divorced couples are having a difficult time navigating the back to school discussion — and the courts aren't helping
Wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID19, a teacher helps elementary school students before classes began for the day in Godley, Texas, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. Three rural school districts in Johnson County were among the first in Texas to head back to school for in person classes for students.LM Otero/AP

Calanni was equally concerned about the court's ability to take on these cases and the effects it will have on students' learning environments. Hecht noted that there may be some recourse for parents once the first batch of these cases are decided. He said that once parents notice patterns in the rulings, they may simply decide to not file their case and save their money.