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Divorce, Family Law & Access to Information

Divorce and family law raise a host of legal questions, but few are more pressing than those related to the care and custody of children. When negotiating a custody arrangement, you and your spouse should address issues related to information access. Will you both be able to retrieve your child's health records? His or her school report card? Information on after-school activities and other programs?

It is important to understand issues related to information access and decision making, and address them during the divorce proceedings. Proactively dealing with these issues will make it easier for both you and your spouse to be good parents once the divorce is complete.

Custody and Information Access

There are many different types of custody arrangements, all surrounding two primary classifications of custody:

  • Physical custody has to do with where the child lives. If a child lives with one parent only, that parent has sole or full physical custody of the child, while the other parent might have visitation rights. If the child lives with each parent almost equally, the parents share joint physical custody.
  • Legal custody, on the other hand, has to do with a parent's involvement in decision making. Which school does the child attend? Which doctor does the child see? It's common for parents to share joint legal custody even if one parent has sole physical custody of the child.
  • Traditionally, one parent--usually the mother--was awarded sole custody of children in the event of divorce. However, attitudes have shifted in the United States, and many experts feel that joint custody is in the best interests of the child. Nowadays divorcing parents will find family laws favor joint custody. As the perspective of the courts has shifted toward joint custody, many states began addressing issues related to information access for non-custodial parents. For example, the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 is a federal law mandating that schools receiving federal funding allow all parents access to their children's school records. Other laws at the state level may clarify and expand the rights of non-custodial parents to access other important information and records.

    Clarifying Information Access in Family Law and Divorce Custody Agreements

    Many states now require divorcing parties to put together a detailed parenting plan outlining issues like information access. Even if your state doesn't require it, it is still worthwhile to draft an information sharing and access agreement. The ability of both divorcing parties to be good, involved parents depends on access to information like a child's academic performance, health issues and extracurricular activities.

    For that reason, a thorough custody arrangement should clearly stipulate how and when each parent can share and access information including:

    • Health records
    • Educational records and report cards
    • After-school activities including sports, music and arts programs
    • Religious education
    • Other activities or issues impacting a child's development

    In the end, regardless of the laws in your state, it's important for both divorcing parties to recognize the rights of one another as parents. Avoiding conflicts, promoting cooperation and giving each parent full and fair access to key information about a child's life is usually in the best interests of everyone concerned.