What if my ex and I can’t agree on the school our child should attend?
Posted on 27th February 2020
All divorce and children law solicitors will tell you that a child’s school should not be changed unilaterally by one parent, and consent should always be sought from the other parent before any attempts are made to change the child’s school. That said, if you have sole parental responsibility then you may well be able to move your child’s school. Read our blog for more information about parental responsibility.
School applications are often made well in advance of the start of the academic year, and if you are arguing over which schools to apply for with you former partner, rather than arguing with your child about which school shoes they want, then there can be real issues.
One suggestion would be for the parents to attend mediation to see if they can reach an agreement about which school is best for the child.
“Best for the child” really should be at the forefront of your considerations. Divorce lawyers hear all sorts from “my friend is sending her kids there so I want my kids to go there” to “I want my kids to be doctors and this nursey has a doctors uniform they can dress up in”. Whilst both my be valid reasons to send a child to a certain school, these reasons are not the be all and end all. Sending your child to an alternative school may mean you meet new friends and other nurseries may have a better Ofsted report, which could help you child on their way to becoming a GP, but as long as you are making these decisions based on what is best for the child then your reasons may well be valid.
A good place to start is a pros and cons list with priority being given to the needs of the child over your convenience.
If you and your former Partner still cannot reach a decision despite mediation, then it may be necessary to apply to the Court for a Specific Issue Order under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989. The Court will then determine which school the child should attend. You must be aware, however, that it is a requirement that a referral is made to mediation before any Family Law litigation or subsequent decision by the Court can be made.
I made mention of Parental Responsibility earlier: anyone with Parental Responsibility (PR) can make an application to the Court in respect of a child for which they have PR. The application for a Specific Issue Order should be made to the Family Court nearest to where the child lives. Once the application is made the Court will arrange an initial Hearing. An initial Hearing is an opportunity for both parents to file evidence including a statement setting out why each party wants a child to attend a particular school.
There will be occasions where the Court will ask CAFCASS to prepare a report for the Court detailing which school they believe a child should attend. It the Court feels that the child is old enough then they may also ask the child for their opinion as to where they want to go to school.
Both the Court and CAFACASS will consider the welfare checklist under s1(3) of the Children Act 1989 when making their recommendation and their decision as to which school the child shall attend. The welfare checklist considers-:
1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned
2. The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
3. The likely effect on the child if circumstances changed as a result of the court’s decision
4. The child’s age, sex, backgrounds and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the court’s decision
5. Any harm the child has suffered or maybe at risk of suffering
6. Capability of the child’s parents (or any other person the courts find relevant) at meeting the child’s needs
7. The powers available to the court in the given proceedings
Once the Court has considered the above they will make a decision as to the school the child shall attend.
If you have any concerns regarding a dispute in relation to a school application or are concerned an attempt may be made to change your child’s school, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist children law team on 01524 581 306.
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