How to Navigate Legal Custody During the Upcoming School Year In Pennsylvania

August 28, 2023 | By Tara Burns

It’s that time of year again- the time when parents begin to prepare for the upcoming school year. Parents who share legal custody of their children, however, have an additional set of considerations to keep in mind for the upcoming school year

What is legal custody?

Under Pennsylvania law, legal custody is defined as the right to make major decisions on behalf of a child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious, and educational decisions. Parents can either share legal custody or one parent has sole legal custody and thus has the legal right to make all major decisions for the child. For parents who share legal custody, however, both parents must coordinate and come to a mutual decision on medical, religious, and educational care. Therefore, both parents need to have access to the same information regarding the child in question and, ideally, will openly and transparently communicate with one another.

Legal Custody and School

Legal Custody decisions regarding education can go far beyond school selection. They can include decisions regarding special education services, IEP determinations, course selection for middle and high school students, and tutoring. Arguably, decisions regarding project choice, optional assignments, and other more day-to-day curriculum and academic decisions are also legal custody matters.

As both parties need to have the same access to information for the child in question, the best co-parenting practices would involve parents filling out all school forms collaboratively, having identical forms of access to school portals and listservs, and attending the same parent-teacher conferences and IEP meetings.

 Given the hectic nature of the back-to-school season, the technological limitations of some schools and school districts, and parents’ different work schedules, it’s often not feasible or possible for parents to adhere to the best practices outlined above. The key to meeting all of the requirements of joint legal custody in the educational sphere is communication and transparency. Parents should ensure that their first point of contact on any new educational issue is their co-parent. This ensures that, even if the parties cannot attend the same meetings or have the same access to school portals, they are both engaged in the educational process and have the same information available to them for decision-making purposes.

If you are involved in a custody action, a conversation with an attorney can be helpful in navigating the process.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.

About the Authors

Tara Burns


Tara Burns is an attorney in Obermayer’s Family Law Department. Tara conducts legal research and drafts memoranda on her findings, aids clients and attorneys with the discovery process, prepares pleadings, motions, discovery...

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