Thursday, April 21, 2011

High Court Rules Religious Mom Can No Longer Homeschool

Admittedly, the New Hampshire Supreme Court's recent decision favoring public school over homeschooling by Mother does not bind any of the courts in our jurisdiction.  Nevertheless, the ruling is instructive for anyone wrangling with family court issues.

This blog tracked the dispute in an earlier post as the case was submitted to the High Court following oral arguments.

Here are the basic facts: Post-divorce, Mother was homeschooling her daughter over Father's objection.  The religious component of Mom's in-home curriculum gave Dad indigestion, so he made an appointment with his divorce lawyer.

The family court appointed a Guardian Ad Litem to review the matter and make a recommendation to the judge.  The GAL concluded that public school was in the best interest of the minor child and so ruled the family court judge.

On appeal, Mother broadly challenged the judge's power to do so, raising a host of religious-based First Amendment arguments. The NH Supreme Court affirmed the family court on narrow grounds, finding that within the context of this particular dispute, the family court's discretionary powers were properly exercised in favor of what it determined was in the best interests of the parties' daughter.

The "best interest" determination included attendance at the local public school.  The child was ordered to progress into the public school curriculum, starting with three 5th grade classes.

Some readers will recognize this dynamic.  In his petition, Father alleged that due to the Mother's religious-based schooling, and through a complete immersion into Mother's church, daughter became withdrawn from Father's world (i.e. his new wife and child).  His officially stated fear was that his daughter was becoming isolated within Mother's home, and within her church and this isolation was preventing her development.

For her part, Mother proclaimed that the additional contact between Father and daughter, and daughter's introduction into the public school system had a negative impact on the daughter, and that daughter (along with Mother) was suffering "extreme difficulty" with the court-ordered lifestyle modification.

In the end, the NH Supreme Court was not persuaded by Mother's high-flying, SCOTUS-citing First Amendment arguments.  The High Court ruled that it was the mandate of the family court to call the balls and strikes in this parenting dispute.

I, for one, feel very sorry for this now-confused little girl.  Not only is she being thrust, perhaps too late, into the main stream of our culture, she is also contending with her Father's new family; all within the context of her Mother's teachings, such as they are.

When parents have joint legal custody but cannot agree on basic issues of schooling and domicile, it is one of the saddest specters in the modern family court.