Selecting which school your child will attend is a massive decision for every parent, and if you have divorced your partner, it gets even more complex. After a divorce, there are lots of things to think through, from custody arrangements to financial agreements, and on top of all this, you will need to choose their school and whether they’ll remain where they are studying or whether you should shift schools to better suit your present lifestyle.
By this time, you might have an education plan for your child from before you divorced. But if you don’t, you could be wondering who makes choices about education? How do you go about selecting or moving schools? And what happens if your ex-partner disagrees with your decision?
Who Makes the Choices about Education?
Knowing who makes the choices for your child after divorce can be challenging, but knowing your rights and responsibilities is a vital part of the post-divorce process. Generally, any decision that needs to be made can fall into two classifications: day-to-day decisions, and long-term decisions.
These are the small decisions you make every day to meet your child’s basic needs. Normally, the primary parent makes the day-to-day decisions, which will include things like:
- What time they go to bed
- How they get to school
- What your child eats
- What they wear
Day-to-day decisions are things that need to be certain of, often quickly, that doesn’t have a long-term effect on your child.
Long-term decisions are decisions that are going to affect your child’s life now, and into the future. Mostly, both parents will be involved in making these types of decisions. This is called joint parental responsibility.
Joint parental responsibility is different from joint care. It’s the responsibility given to a parent at the time of a child’s birth, and regardless of how custody is arranged, it remains in place unless the Courts rule otherwise.
Joint parental responsibility gives both parents equal rights to make choices for their children such as:
- Their name
- Their religion or cultural upbringing
- Health and medical decisions
- What schools they attend
- Where they live
Choosing Your Child’s School
Choosing your child’s school is a long-term choice, so both you and your partner will need to settle before you enroll them. This might take some negotiation and compromise from both of you.
Your first step is to get a good grasp on the schools in your local area, paying attention to:
- Whether they have a school uniform
- Whether you meet the criteria to enrol your child there
- Where they are located in relation to both parents’ homes
- What extra-curricular experiences they provide
- Whether there are any specialist programs that would benefit your child
- What the compulsory fees and any voluntary donations are per year
Once you have collected all the information you can, you will need to discuss it with your ex-partner. It may take several discussions to reach an agreement on a particular school. During these discussions, it’s a good idea to consider:
- Are the fees affordable for both families?
- Whether your child has a preference for a specific school
- Depending on your custody arrangement, which of the schools are close enough for your child to be dropped off and picked up from both homes?
- Whether your child has any special needs and which schools can provide this care
- If there are any cultural or religious reasons for your child to attend a particular school
- Whether your child currently has friends or siblings attending any of the schools
Once you have mutually decided on a school, you can enroll your child without a written settlement. However, it’s a good concept to fill in the enrolment forms together or get your ex-partner to sign them before you proceed to the school.
Changing Your Child’s School
Since life isn’t always foreseeable, you might find yourself in the situation of needing to change your child’s school. Before you consider changing your child’s school, you need to consider:
- Whether your child wants to change school
- How your child feels about the school you have chosen
- Whether there is a significant benefit in them moving schools
- Whether the school can meet any of their special needs
- Whether moving them is in their best interests
- Whether they have friends or family in the new school
Changing schools is a decision that both you and your ex-partner need to decide on. Failure to get your ex-partner’s permission for any educational change could cost a lot of time and money in the long run, so it’s best to discuss this before you buy a new school uniform.
What If Your Ex-partner Doesn’t Approve?
Choosing or changing schools is a tough decision, and can lead to conflict. It can be tempting to just enroll your child and hope for the best when your ex-partner doesn’t agree with your choice. This is not recommended.
If your ex-partner doesn’t approve of the decision you made, they can start legal proceedings to have the child relocated to another school. As well as being stressful for the parents, this isn’t the perfect start to your child’s academic career.
If you and your ex-partner are having worries about agreeing on which school to enroll your child in, or can’t reach an agreement on your child shifting schools, you have options. Family lawyers are specialists in helping families collaborate through a conflict so they can reach an agreement that works for everyone, mainly the child.
If negotiation doesn’t work, your next phase is to enter into family mediation with your ex-partner. A specialist facilitator will guide discussions to support in reaching a mutually agreeable outcome. If it’s unsuccessful, then the Courts are your last option.
Normally, you need to have been through mediation before you seek the support of the Courts, and you need to be aware that the Courts reserved the right to make a final judgement on the school your child will attend.
When making a final judgement, the Courts will look at factors such as:
- Who the primary carer is
- The school’s location
- If there are any special needs that need to be catered for
- Whether any siblings attend a particular school
Negotiation, mediation, or going through the Courts is a time-consuming process so if you are selecting a school, or considering shifting schools, it’s best to have these conversations as quickly as possible so your child’s education isn’t late.