School principals can be faced with a raft of angry emails between warring parents and their lawyers at this time of year, and in the lead up to Term 1.
Where separated parents cannot agree upon which school their child will attend, schools often get caught in the crossfire, with one parent asking the school to enrol a child and the other refusing to sign enrolment forms.
Discussions about schools can be heated even between parents in intact relationships, let alone those who have separated.
The starting point is that, unless a court has ordered otherwise, separated parents must endeavour to make joint decisions about the school their child will attend.
This will involve discussing with your former partner the various options for schools, perhaps attending school open days, and communicating with each other why you think a certain school is the most appropriate for your child.
It generally assists in these negotiations to remain open minded and research several schools, then communicate to your partner why a particular school is the best fit for your child and what it offers that is superior to other schools.
Things to think about include:
- How far is the school located from your respective residences and workplaces? Bearing in mind the current parenting arrangement, is it practicable for both of you to get your child to and from school?
- Does your child have friends or siblings attending your proposed school?
- What are your child’s views about the school? This will be more relevant the older your child is.
- Did you and your partner have any prior agreement about the school your child would attend? Has your child already been enrolled in that school for some time?
- Are there any cultural or religious reasons for your child to attend a certain school?
- Does your child have special needs and are there programs or facilities at your proposed school that will specifically cater for their needs?
- If you would like your child to attend a private school, who will pay the fees? If your ex-partner does not have the financial means to meet the costs, it may be that you have to offer to pay the full fees. A court will not order a child to attend a private school if a parent is pressing for the school fees to be paid jointly but one party cannot afford it.
If, despite your best efforts, a joint decision cannot be made, the next step is mediation and then, as a last resort, court proceedings.
The court will come to a decision based on what school it considers is in the best interests of your child; this is highly discretionary.
The court won’t compare schools based on NAPLAN results or the like, and, usually, practical considerations like the location, who is the primary carer, whether siblings are attending, special needs, etc, are the most important factors.
Unfortunately, as a result of court delays, even if a court application is filed in November or December the year before the school term, it is unlikely to be listed for hearing before Term 1.
This means parents need to think about schooling early and ramp up their negotiation efforts to avoid court, and the no doubt very confusing situation for a child of not starting school on time or changing a few weeks into the school term.