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Divorce: Arguments about school choice

Hopkins Murray BeskineWhat do you do if you can’t agree on the best school? This is a problem that some parents are facing. It is even harder if you are separated parents. I am a divorce lawyer, mediator and collaborative lawyer at Hopkin Murray Beskine.

Parents have to give their child “efficient full time education” either at school “or otherwise” which usually means being home educated, often linked to education networks.

Educating our children is taken extremely seriously by the law. If you are seen to be failing in this you could receive a Notice or a School Attendance Order requiring you to register your child at a named school.  It is an offence not to comply with these orders. An Education Supervision Order can give power to social services to get involved in the education of your child.

For many parents, the issue of which school is considered years in advance.   If it is becoming clear that there is a dispute between you, it is vital to try and sort it out quickly.  School choice is a very big topic in the playground. It is important that children do not pick up anxiety from home about what is going to happen to them, in addition to the natural anxiety they will be feeling about moving schools. Disagreements might be about religious education.  A recent case concerned the mother’s wish to move the children from their religious school. The Judge in this case allowed the mother’s choice, and he looked at arguments about school choice‘education’ arguments versus ‘way of life’ issues.

I suggest you consider using mediation and apply for both schools if possible. Decide on a mediator who is qualified to involve your child in the mediation if you so choose.  Both parents might learn something new about their child’s wishes.   Perhaps their child would choose the school where most of their friends will go, or the one they are not going to.  If you cannot resolve this in mediation or if mediation is not realistic, the court has a responsibility for making the decision if asked.

Making decisions about your child’s education is an aspect of your parental responsibility.   The court has power to regulate parental responsibility. This is done by orders called ‘Specific Issue Orders’ which can direct which school your child should attend, assuming they get a place. The main question for the court is ‘what is in the best interests of your child’.  The court look at your child’s wishes, taking into account age and understanding, their physical, emotional and educational needs, the effect of any change, characteristics of your child which the court thinks are relevant eg age, sex or background, any harm that your child has suffered/ is at risk of suffering, how capable each parent is of meeting your child’s needs and all the powers that the court has.  The court can use experts to make recommendations eg social services, psychologists and psychiatrists.

You will find lots of guidance available and much of it will be about keeping the dispute away from your children so as not to cloud their future thoughts and hopes for their school change – which I know is easier said than done.

If you have questions or enquiries you would like to ask me please do not hesitate to email me at [email protected].

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Sarah Beskine
About Sarah Beskine (45 Articles)
I offer help and advice as a specialist in the field of family law whether you are seeking help with divorce, separation or conflicts regarding children’s disputes.