Back to School Issues for Separated Families

As the 2016 school year dawns upon us, many children will be looking forward to their first day at a new school.  Unfortunately, what should be a straight forward process and focussed on ensuring a seamless transition may turn into difficult and tense negotiations when it involves separated families.

The Family Law Act 1975 prescribes that each parent of a child under 18 years of age share parental responsibility for the long term decisions for that child such as the school they should attend.  Therefore, such decisions must be made jointly and with the consent of both parents.

In considering a change in schooling arrangements, parents should discuss the child’s options well in advance of their first day at school and consider the following matters in an attempt to reach an agreement:

  1. The parents' intentions in relation to schooling arrangements prior to separation;
  2. The parents' financial circumstances if the proposed school is a fee-paying school;
  3. The child’s specific needs or interests which need to be catered for by the school;
  4. The impact of a change in school upon the child noting their current integration; and
  5. The practicalities of a change in school upon the parents with respect to the proximity from their respective residences and the costs of travel to and from school.

In circumstances where an agreement is not reached, parents would need to attempt family dispute resolution failing which an application would need to be made to the family law courts for a determination in order to decisively resolve the issue in a timely manner.

It is noteworthy to consider seeking a child support departure order as part of such an application to the family law courts, in circumstances where the proposed school has school fees and it was always intended by the parents prior to separation that the child would attend a fee paying school.

If you are considering a change in schooling arrangements for your child, please contact our Family Law Team on 03 8600 6000 to discuss your options.

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