School choice and separated parents: What if you can’t agree on education for your child?

School choice and separated parents: What if you can’t agree on education for your child?

Navigating the issue of schooling can present difficulties for separated parents

Schooling and school choice can be challenging topics in intact families.  These topics can become even more complicated if you are separated or divorced, especially if communication is an issue.

What happens if my child needs to change schools?

Separation can lead one or both parents to propose changing a child’s school.  Disputes about private schooling are common.

A change of school may be necessary because the parent with primary care moves their residence and it is no longer practical to attend the original school. Changes can also be necessary because it is no longer financially viable to pay for private schooling costs.

How does parental responsibility affect schooling and education?

The starting point for schooling decisions is the question of parental responsibility.

Parental responsibility refers to all the rights and obligations that parents have in relation to children, including major long-term decisions for children, such as how they are educated.

Unless there is an order that states otherwise, parents share parental responsibility and the law requires parents to consult with one another and make a genuine effort to come to a joint decision.  If parents cannot agree, then the court can decide.

Some key considerations where the court is asked to determine a dispute about schooling include:

  • Where the child currently attends school, and how the child is progressing at that school
  • The geographical location of a school, in relation to each parent’s home, and the child’s primary residence
  • Any cultural or religious motivations for a child attending, or not attending, a school
  • The fees for each school, and the ability of each parent to contribute to those fees
  • Any views or wishes expressed by the child as to which school they wish to attend

If you become aware that the other parent has enrolled your child in a school without your consent and there is no order for the other parent to have sole parental responsibility, you should immediately seek legal advice.   

How do I get access to school information?

Unless there is an order to the contrary, both parents are entitled to receive information from the school, such as school reports, event information and photographs. It is important to get in touch with the school to ask for two copies to be sent out.

If communication between separated parents has deteriorated, school information is often not passed on to the non-resident parent.

How has COVID-19 affected school fees?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some schools are offering fee rebates to parents who ask for relief. Some schools are also offering payment plans.

If you have been financially affected by COVID-19, you should contact your child’s school directly to determine whether you are eligible for a rebate or payment plan.

Seek legal advice as soon as possible if:

  • You are paying child support; or
  • You and your former spouse or partner entered into a Binding Child Support Agreement; and
  • You are responsible for payment of school fees or some portion of the fees.

How can you help me?

If you and your former spouse or partner are having difficulties reaching an agreement about schooling, we can help with communication, negotiations and, if necessary, court proceedings.

It is important to reach an agreement in advance of the school term commencing or enrolment due date.  This will minimise disruption to your child and your child’s education.

Contact us to find out more about school choices and separated parents.

This article was written by family lawyer, Julia Hodkinson.



DISCLAIMER: We accept no responsibility for any action taken after reading this article. It is intended as a guide only and is not a substitute for the expert legal advice you can receive from marshalls+dent+wilmoth and other relevant experts.