When you are a separated or divorced parent it can be hard to reach an agreement over aspects of your child’s parenting. The importance of a child’s education can be a trigger point for family law disputes with each parent holding equally strong views about the schooling and education choices that are best for their child.
In this article, children law solicitor Louise Halford helps parents understand their options when there is a family law dispute over schooling.
School-related family law disputes
Parents can get involved in a range of school-related children and family law disputes including:
- Whether a child should be privately educated or state educated
- The choice of private school – with disputes over whether a child should board or be a day pupil or the location of the school or its specialism in academic achievements or sports
- The decision to home school
- Entering a child for grammar school exams
- Whether to request a special educational needs assessment or not
- The decision to request a child attends a mainstream school or a specialist school
- Attendance of both parents at school sports days or plays or other events
- The release of information, such as school reports or attendance records, by the school to the parent who does not have daily care of the child
- Contact arrangements and collection from or return to school
- One parent taking the child on holiday during term time
- Parental disagreement over use of school disciplines, such as school detention, suspension, or exclusion
Resolving school-related parent disputes
It is best to resolve school-related parent disputes as quickly as possible. Ways to achieve that include:
- Solicitor negotiations
- Roundtable meeting
- Family mediation
If you cannot reach an agreement then either you or your ex-husband or wife can apply to the court for the court to decide on the issue in dispute. This is called an application for a specific issue order. Alternatively, you may need to apply for or respond to an application for a prohibited steps order or child arrangement order. During any children law proceedings, you will be encouraged to reach a resolution so you do not have to ask a judge to determine the school-related dispute at a contested final hearing.
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Court proceedings to determine school-related parental disputes
Whatever type of school-related parental dispute a judge is being asked to adjudicate on, the court must look at a range of factors, known as the ‘welfare checklist’ when making a decision. The key point is that the court must make a decision based on what it thinks is in the child’s best interests.
For example, you may want your child to be privately educated and you may have selected and reserved a place at the best private prep school with an excellent academic record. Your ex-spouse may believe that your child is too young to board or that your child is not sufficiently academic to thrive in your chosen prep school. You may attribute their objections to selfishness on their part or a desire to thwart your long-held ambitions for your son or daughter. A court will consider your child’s wishes and feelings after considering their age and level of understanding as well as their personality and both parents’ arguments. The fact that a child does not want to go to a new school does not mean that the court will not make a specific issue order as the court will look at what is in the child’s overall best interests.
The likelihood of succeeding in an application for a specific issue order in part depends on the homework you and your family lawyer do in preparation for the court case. For example, if there is a dispute over the choice of school, checking Ofsted reports can be helpful. If there is a dispute over whether home-schooling is in a child’s best interests a detailed statement covering why a parent is so committed to home education, their research on available local resources and support groups, the child’s experiences in previous schools, and how the parent can cover a range of lessons, and ensure the child also enjoys activities with friends of their own age such as drama and sport, can be very persuasive.