Family lawyers see it all the time. One parent wants a child to go to the local school and the other has their heart set on the child going to their alma mater. And the poor child is stuck in the middle.
Parenting and Divorce – The Schoolyard Battle
So how is this difficult argument resolved?
The schooling arrangements for a child are a ‘parental responsibility’ issue. As parents, we all have parental responsibility for our children. That responsibility involves decisions around big-ticket items such as treatment of health, religious instructions and schooling.
In the post-separation context, problems arise when one parent wants to exercise that responsibility on major issues that comes into conflict with the other parent’s wishes. When it comes to choosing the right school, parenting and divorce can mean that emotions come into play and things can become very hard very fast.
In some cases, the subject of schooling ends in a deadlock.
Parenting and Divorce – The Next Steps
If parents can’t agree, that’s when the Family Court steps in. The goal is to decide what is in the best interest of the child. The stakes are high and, inevitably, one parent won’t be getting what they want.
So what do you do if you want to enroll your child at school, or change to a different school?
Do not make any changes secretly. The key to navigating parenting and divorce is communication. Communicate your side of the argument calmly with your co-parent and explain why you think it is in the best interests of your child. Begin planning well before the commencement of the school year so discussions are considered instead of rushed.
Weigh up the options
Consider the responses you get. Although you may have your heart set on one direction, there may be good reasons you hadn’t considered. Sometimes we overlook practical considerations such as the traveling distance and the affordability of tuition fees.
If there is no going forward or your viewpoint is rejected, consider the introduction of a neutral party. That might take the form of Family Dispute Resolution (mediation) who can be of great assistance when it comes to parenting and divorce. The intermediary may be able to ‘reality test’ each line of thought, raise points and options which had not been considered and help move towards an outcome that everyone can live with. There are plenty of free FDR services and private practitioners on the Family Dispute Resolution Register.
If no agreement can be reached, you may need to file an application with the Family Court and ask a Judge to make an order about the school. Before you take that step, consult an experienced family lawyer. You’ll need to talk about the merits of your case and whether there’s another option you can take instead.
If your application does come for hearing before a Judge, a range of factors will be considered. Current care arrangements, motivations for school preference, practicalities like proximity, the opinion of the child, siblings and areas of need for the child will all be taken into account. For private schools, weight is often given to evidence of schooling plans which had been agreed prior to separation and the financial ability to fund school fees.
Orlena Moloney is Director of BGM Family lawyers at Bundall, recognised by the Doyles Guide to the Australian Legal Profession as a leading family lawyer in the resolution of complex parenting disputes. A mother of two, she loves nothing more than helping parents achieve durable parenting outcomes with minimum conflict.