Back to school – choosing a school between separated parents

This time of year, Instagram is full to the brim of ‘first day of school’ pictures, whether it’s a brand-new school or little ones progressing to the next year. But choosing which school a child attends, especially between separated parents, can be an exceptionally difficult process. Here, Ruth Hetherington looks at what the Court may decide if separated parents can’t see eye to eye.

A child’s first day of school is no doubt a big day, whether it’s their first experience of school or going back after the holidays. It is the start of something new for both parents and for the child, a new chapter, either the start of their life in education or progression onto the next phase

The decision of which school a child shall attend is of fundamental importance.  It will hopefully provide stability and security for the child during their childhood, and it will

no doubt shapes the child so as to inform their own decision making as an adult.  Lifelong friendships will also be formed and therefore how your child progresses through their informative years of education can be a difficult and stressful decision for parents, particularly if there are separated and have different views on how their child should be educated.

Despite the importance that surrounds the decision of which school a child shall attend, sadly it is all too common for one parent to unilaterally make that decision which can be wholly wrong and at times unlawful.   If both parents share parental responsibility, they then have a right to have a say in the decision-making process of how and where their child should be educated.  This can often be an arduous task for parents, especially if one parent attempts to enrol a child into a school where the consent of the other parent has now been sought or secured.

If you share Parental Responsibility with the other parent , you should consult each other in respect of big decisions that relate to the wellbeing of your child. The decision of which educational placement a child shall attend is a decision where both parents’ views should be ascertained with careful consideration being given to both sides.

If you cannot agree which school your child is to attend, then you should make an application for a Specific Issue Order.  This means that the Court is being asked to make the decision for the parents.  If one parent tries to make the decision unilaterally, then you could be faced making an application to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order, preventing the enrolment of your child in the chosen school of the other parent..

If the decision  relating to a child’s school are put before the Court, the matter then becomes a question of what is best for the child and not what is best for the parents. The Court’s primary consideration will be the needs of the child having  regard to the Welfare Checklist (s.1 (3) Children Act 1989) when reaching their decisions. A change of school will undoubtedly bring disruption and upheaval to a child’s life. Their support network and friendships may be broken especially if any change requires either party to relocate.  Relocation brings another added complexity to these decisions, as they may also affect the time that one parent spends with their child.  These decisions should not be taken lightly and wherever possible an agreed approach between the parents is preferable to a Court making the decision.  However sadly we see this scenario on a regular basis and detailed and clear legal advice is also crucial

The above issues identified are simply the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and of course there are other factors to consider including the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child, dependant of the age of the child. But they demonstrate why big decisions need and require careful deliberation with the views of both parents being respected and considered.

  • Ruth Hetherington