What happens when separated parents can’t agree on schools?
Now the autumn term is underway, the admissions window for school placements next September is now open. It’s a big decision for all parents and their children, but for separated parents it can become even more complicated – especially if they do not agree. For some, it can cause considerable tension between ex-partners, particularly as there is a finite deadline.
Does my ex have the right to choose our child’s school even if I have primary care responsibilities?
Choosing a school or changing a school can be approached as a standalone issue, regardless of who has primary care responsibilities.
If your ex has parental responsibility, they have a duty and obligation as well as the right to decide how your child(ren) is educated. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, it is likely that your ex still has parental responsibility and therefore has a voice in the decision of your child’s school.
Even if both parents have the child’s best interests at heart, this can still mean that they struggle to agree on the right school. A huge number of factors are involved in this decision and ultimately the well-being and education of the child(ren) should be central to the decision.
Choosing the right school
When going through a divorce or separation, children can often be caught in the middle of parental disputes.
Supporting children through divorce can be difficult for parents as they may be experiencing turbulent emotions, however, divorce can have long-lasting impacts on a child’s emotional and mental health, no matter their age.
Schools are a safe space for children to cope with the difficulties going on at home. They provide routine, structure and community so choosing the right one is very important.
When considering changing school, and approaching an application, the practicalities of this change should be considered. For example, how the child(ren) will get to and from school, the academic credentials of the institution, and pastoral factors. The emotional and well-being aspect for the child must be central.
If you can’t agree on your child’s school
If you and your ex find that you can’t agree on a school, there are some steps you can take before involving the court.
Having an open and honest conversation with your ex-partner, or anyone who shares parental responsibility is very important. You may find that there is some common ground.
Should these methods not work, and you find yourselves still disagreeing, then the matter can be referred to the court through a Specific Issue Order application. The court will consider the position of each parent and order where the child should go to school.
You can also apply for a Specific Issue Order if you are not the child’s biological parent, but you have parental responsibility. For example, this can apply if you are the child’s legal guardian, or who the child lives with under the Child Arrangements Order.
The court will be guided specifically by the welfare checklist which is laid out in s1(3) of the Children Act 1989.
They will ensure the welfare of the child is the primary concern in decision making. This includes the wishes and feelings of the child, depending on their age and understanding, as well as their physical, emotional, and educational needs.
The court will also consider what the impact of a change of school is likely to have on the child.
Help with reaching a decision about schools
For separating and divorcing parents, where their child/children should live and go to school is of the utmost importance. Should you find yourself at a deadlock with your ex-spouse over schooling, there are steps that can be taken, and professional support can be sought out.
With applications for schools and changing schools now open, these next few weeks could be key decision-making time. There is guidance available to help ensure that your child’s welfare remains paramount, and their educational needs are met, particularly during a time of change in the home.