The Impact of Child Custody Issues on School Safety (Part 2)

Developing appropriate school policies and following court orders and state laws can minimize your campus’ liability exposure as well as prevent child abuse, workplace violence and domestic violence.

Notice: This is part two of a two-part series on how school officials can address the child custody issues they could encounter on campus. Part 1 covered custody basics, and part 2 covers how these issues apply in cases where child abuse and/or domestic violence are suspected. This article contains educational information, not legal advice. Check with an attorney for case-specific policies and procedures and state laws. Read part 1.

School Officials Must Report Suspected Child Abuse

The mission of school officials is to protect the children and staff while avoiding personal and district liability. A related objective is to prevent violence at the school resulting from child custody issues. For example, one parent might attack the other parent or a staff member in the heat of a custody or parenting time dispute. Preventing violence is accomplished by developing and then following school policies, and obtaining and obeying court orders.

School officials should not second guess or substitute their judgment for that of the court. If a school official believes a child is in danger, the official should report that belief and supporting facts to child protective services and law enforcement officials. School resource officers (SROs) are great sources of guidance in these matters.

School officials have an affirmative duty under the law of most states to report suspicion of physical or sexual abuse or neglect. Child protective services caseworkers and law enforcement officers have power and authority to act to prevent harm to children and remove them from dangerous situations in spite of court orders. School officials generally do not have that power or authority.

Related Article: Child Sex Abuse: It’s More Prevalent Than You Think

Campus administrators do generally have immunity from liability for good faith reporting of suspected abuse or neglect, and may incur civil and criminal liability for failure to report. Reporting is mandatory, not optional. Failure to report abuse and neglect can result in increased exposure to civil liability as well as harm to a child.

A custodial parent has the authority to prevent the non-custodial parent or third persons from visiting the child at school, picking up the child from school and being on the emergency contact list.

Custody Issues Can Get Tricky When Other States, Countries Are Involved

With today’s mobile society, school staff will often be presented with written documentation and court orders from another state or county.  The doctrine of Full Faith and Credit requires one state to accept and enforce orders issued by another state. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act and the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act define a child’s home state as the state in which the child has resided for the past six months. The child’s home state retains jurisdiction over the child. This prevents a non-custodial parent from fleeing to another state to get a new custody order.

Custody issues involving a parent who is not in the country can be particularly challenging.

For example, on January 22, 2013 the Evansville Courier and Press reported a 12 year old girl, 10 year old boy and 8 year old girl were reunited with their custodial father who had not seen them since June 2008 when his then wife took the three children to Argentina for a three week vacation. An arrest warrant remains active for the wife issued from Lafayette, Ind. She is believed to be in Argentina.

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The father is a native of Argentina and wife is an American citizen raised in Argentina. Married in Argentina in 1999, they moved to Lafayette in 2003. The father became a naturalized citizen in 2008 and also was awarded full custody in a 2008 Indiana divorce. This is an international parental child abduction case and the International Criminal Police organization or INTERPOL is involved. The wife had an attorney in the divorce who said the father was violent toward the wife. The wife  filed a parallel case in Buenos Aries to determine if father’s custody order was valid. The Tippecanoe County, Ind., judge determined the wife violated the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspect of Child Abduction, a treaty to facilitate determining if children have been wrongfully removed from their “country of habitual residence”.

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