What if my ex and I can’t agree on the school our child should attend?
All divorce and children law solicitors will tell you that a child’s school should not be changed unilaterally by one parent, and agreement 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 are able to make decisions in relation to your child without consultation with anyone else. The other parent can make an application to the Court if they have strong feelings about your decision and feel that the child should remain in the school which they currently attend or whether they should attend a particular school.
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 your 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. Family lawyers hear all sorts of reasons why a particular school is preferred, from the sensible to the downright ridiculous. “My friend is sending her kids there so I want my kids to go there” says more about the wish of the parent than whether the school is suitable for a child. More important considerations should be whether the school has a good Ofsted report, a good reputation, and in many cases whether a certain religion is encouraged or has plenty of opportunity for a child to participate in a favourite sport or other interest.
A good place to start may be to write out a pros and cons list for each school under consideration, remembering that it is the child that will be attending and not the parent!
If you and your former partner still cannot reach a decision despite many discussions and/or 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 in the majority of cases it is a requirement that a referral is made to mediation in any event before an application is made to the Court, otherwise the application will be rejected. It does not matter if the other parent does not wish to attend mediation as long as the person applying has tried to use this route and has only used the Court arena as the last resort.
If an application is made, the Court may ask Cafcass to prepare a report for the Court setting out its decision as to which school it believes a child should attend. If the Court feels that the child is old enough then it may also ask Cafcass to speak to the child and obtain his/her opinion as to where they want to go to school.
Both the Court and Cafcass will consider the welfare checklist under s1(3) of the Children Act 1989 when making recommendations and the ultimate decision as to which school the child shall attend. The welfare checklist considers-:
The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned considering their age and understanding;
The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
The likely effect on the child if their circumstances change as a result of the Court’s decision;
The child’s age, sex, background and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the Court’s decision
Any harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering;
Capability of the child’s parents (or any other person the Court finds relevant) at meeting the child’s needs;
The powers available to the Court in the given proceedings;
Once the Court has considered the above it will make a decision as to which school the child shall attend.