Is it time to enroll your child in school?

Posted on November 14th, 2017

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Starting primary school or high school can be a daunting prospect for children.  It can also be a daunting prospect for separated parents, as they need to work together to determine the most appropriate school for their child to attend.

This is a decision of parental responsibility.

This is quite straight forward while parents remain in a relationship together, and can properly discuss the pros and cons of different schools and reach agreement.  The complexity arises, however, when parents are unable to have respectful conversation – be that verbal or in writing, such as text messages or Facebook – about which school their child should attend. 

The Family Law Act says that parents each have parental responsibility for their children until an Order is made otherwise.  The most common Order made is that separated parents have equal shared parental responsibility.  This means that parents must communicate about the issue, and reach agreement.  If one parent makes a unilateral decision about which school the child attends, they risk being in breach of the Order.

Where parents are unable to reach an agreement, there is an expectation that they will attend Family Dispute Resolution (mediation) to participate in facilitated discussions, with a better chance of reaching agreement.

If this is unsuccessful, and parents still cannot agree, the only option remaining is an application to the Court.

Applications of this nature are unfortunate and difficult.  A Court is unable to make any findings as to whether one school is better than another; it can simply look realistically at the facts before it, such as:

  • where each parent lives;
  • where the children’s friends will be attending school;
  • the convenience to the child of the competing options; and
  • the cost of the competing options – this is usually private school versus public school.

While ever the issue remains in dispute, your child is left with the uncertainty of what school they will be attending in the coming year, and is unlikely to be able to become excited or make plans with their friends.

So what are 3 tips to reduce the risk of this happening to your child?

  1. Have discussions early regarding schooling, and by no later than the middle of the year before your child is due to be enrolled at the new school, and during those discussions be open minded to all possibilities and ideas;
  2. Think about the impact on your child, and be realistic about what will be easier for them;
  3. ‘Road test’ the options – can you afford it on a long term basis? Is either parent likely to move to a different area in the next 6 years and will this impact on your child’s travel to school?

Ashleigh John, Associate Director at Mullane & Lindsay Solicitors, NewcastleAshleigh John is an Associate Director and Accredited Specialist at Mullane & Lindsay Solicitors and practices extensively in Family, Relationship and Matrimonial LawIf you require any assistance in this area please contact Ashleigh John to arrange a consultation or contact our Newcastle office.

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