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Schools and Separation – How to Resolve Tricky Disputes

by | Dec 22, 2020 | Family Law

One of the most frequent issues of contention that arise between separated parents is where their children are to go to school. This can be a difficult problem that does not rear its ugly head for a number of years after a separation, as a transition to primary or secondary school may not occur for a few years.

When it does though, it can be a troublesome problem to solve. People might also want to change school for other reasons other than a transition to a new level – maybe one parent has moved, or a child is experiencing difficulties such as bullying, poor culture or excessive fees at a particular school that has now become untenable.

Like many aspects of decision-making carried out by the Family Court, the guiding principle in assisting parties here are the ‘best interests’ of children. When it comes to working that out, many factors can come into play, including:

  • Relative proximity to each of the parents;
  • Class sizes and NAPLAN performance of the school;
  • Previous agreements or intentions during the relationship, including whether the school is government or a private religion-backed institution; and
  • Fees or lack thereof.

This is not an exhaustive list. Factors such as involvement in the local community, level of extra-curriculars available, connection to local friends and families, and external factors in children’s lives (such as ‘change exhaustion’) are all relevant issues to consider.

Then there are fees – what do you propose to do about fees? If one parents wants to send to a fee paying school and the other does not, is the person proposing the fee-paying school going to pay for their chosen school? Be careful when agreeing to a particular school in writing or in Court orders as well – the Child Support Agency / Department of Human Services has been known to see that as an implicit acceptance of the school fees, and assign half of those fees to the previously-unsuspecting parent. It is a sensible idea as part of your negotiation to incorporate a Binding Child Support Agreement to ensure everyone knows what they are going to be paying for in the future.

When you are faced with decisions like this, contact  your family lawyer straight away – and if you need one, or need a second opinion, call our experienced and knowledgeable team on 03 9614 7111 or email melbourne@nevettford.com.au.