Dear Dawg: We’ve got the mother, the stepmother, and the girlfriend all showing up at the ARD meeting. Who is the go-to person here?

Dear Dawg:  I hear that there used to be a time when almost all children were raised by two people, those being their biological parents. It is so much more complicated now.  We had an ARD meeting yesterday where three women showed up, all claiming to be the one who should be treated as the parent.

We had the biological mother. We don’t think that her relationship with the dad was ever formalized, if you know what I mean.  In fact, we’re not sure that “relationship” is the right word.  She left the scene very shortly after giving birth to the boy.  But she is the bio mother and no one questions that. So she claims priority based on the nine months of pregnancy, the many hours of labor and the pains of childbirth.

Then we have the current wife of the dad. I guess she qualifies as “stepmom.”  She claims that she’s the main one because she’s the only one who has actually married the father.  However, the two of them have not been together for quite some time and that’s because of…

The girlfriend.  She and dad have been living together “without benefit of clergy” as they say for several months.  And the kid lives with them.  So she claims priority because she’s the one actually giving the kid his Fruit Loops in the morning and tucking him in at night.

Dad steered clear of all of this. Smart fellow, that guy. But we have to sort this out. What do you say?  LONGING FOR SIMPLER TIMES.

DEAR LONGING:  First of all, if it’s Fruit Loops every morning, we think the GF is disqualified.  More to the point, however, there is actually a federal regulation that addresses your quandary.  34 CFR 300.30 defines the word “parent,” and in doing so, it creates a hierarchy of people who can be treated as “the parent.”

The stepmom is not a “parent” under this definition.  The definition includes “An individual acting in the place of a biological or adoptive parent (including a grandparent, stepparent, or other relative) with whom the child lives…” Since the child is not living with the stepmom, she does not qualify.

The GF could qualify.  Although she is not a relative, the definition is not limited to relatives, and the child does live with her.  But you would want some written documentation to establish that she is “acting in the place of” the dad. And then, of course, there is the Fruit Loops issue to consider.

But the bio mom holds the aces here.  First of all, she is definitely a “parent” under the definition. Furthermore, the regulation anticipates exactly the kind of mess you are in, and provides guidance. It states that when two or more people are qualified to be the “parent” the biological or adoptive parent who is “attempting to act as a parent” should be treated as the parent, unless there is a court order to the contrary. You didn’t say anything about any court orders.  If nobody presents you with a court order that identifies them as the decision maker, then that bio mom is the “parent” for purposes of your ARD meeting.

Fortunately, you don’t have to sort out this tangled family mess beyond that, so try to avoid any discussion of who has the kid on Thanksgiving Day.


 File this one under: SPECIAL EDUCATION