Q&A WITH LEANNE HALL: WHAT TO DO WHEN WORK GETS TOO MUCH
Your questions answered with Clarissa Rayward, Australia’s Happy Family Lawyer and CEO of the Brisbane Family Law Centre
A disagreement about a change of school for children is a common enough challenge for separated parents. Often these disagreements can be resolved through a few emails or a series of conversations, but if you really can’t find a solution together you may find yourself having to resort to the legal process for assistance.
If you have an Order for Equal Shared Parental Responsibility, the Family Law Act tells us that as parents we should be working together to reach an agreement on the schooling of our children. It is a significant decision for kids and both parents should be involved in making it. Where we can’t reach agreement, it then becomes a legal issue that a Family Court will determine on your behalf.
Like with all parenting matters, it will be necessary for you to have undertaken Family Dispute Resolution (mediation) prior to being able to commence an application in the Family Courts (unless you satisfy the exceptions which are generally related to risk and urgency).
Once you have attended mediation you can bring an application in the Family Courts to have a Judge determine where your children will be schooled. The challenge with this is that like all Court applications you are now handing over a very important decision to an educated stranger. The Court will look at what is in the ‘best interests’ of your children and this is a subjective process, dependent on the information available to the Judge on the day. It may take many months or even sometimes years to have the decision made, it can cost a fortune and there is no guarantee you will get the outcome you hope for.
So what do you do? If you can’t reach an agreement and you are considering the Court process as the way forward I suggest you pause and really try hard to find another solution.
Where do you start? You start with really trying to understand the basis of the disagreement that exists between you and your former partner. Chances are there is a reason why your former partner is objecting to the school of your choice
What happens when you have equal shared parental responsibility in court orders but don’t agree on schooling? I’m planning on moving 40km away which is allowed in our orders but I will want kids schooled near me and my co-parent will want them to remain at their current school where eldest is. What happens when equal responsibility means there can’t really be any negotiation
as public schools in our state only accept children in their catchment zone.
and so your job is to find out what that reason is and then see if you can find another solution to the challenge.
A common concern I see when dealing with these issues is that a parent is proposing a change to a private school. In this case, often the objecting parent is not concerned about the school itself but rather about the cost involved. As soon as you work that out then you can start to focus on solutions. For example, sharing costs equally, offsetting school fees from child support or trying together to apply for scholarships for your children.
In the example you have given me, where you would like to move 40km, I would really want to understand the basis of your former partner’s complaint. I am guessing but it may be some of the following:
How will the move affect my time with the children? How will I still be involved at my kids school when it is much further away? How will the kids cope with the school change?
They are my guesses but I encourage you to ask the question (calmly and respectfully!) Once you know the answer to this question it will give you something to work with in terms of finding solutions.
I have seen this done really well by one of my clients recently. She sent an email to her former partner setting out the reason she was proposing a school change, giving information about the new school and referencing the other schools she had considered in her decision. She also tried to anticipate some of her former partners concerns and then finished by asking him what he thought and if he would be willing to attend a meeting with the new school principal so they could together find out more information before they had to make a decision.
Now I appreciate that may not be for everyone, but it certainly worked for my client. It also allowed her former partner to feel he was involved in the decision making process, rather than just being told how it was going to be. So that is where I would start if I was you – try to get to the bottom of the disagreement and then aim for solutions. And do this before you go to mediation so if you still end up there you can have some solid solutions available before you begin.
As an aside, while state schools are only supposed to take students in their catchments, in my experience, that policy can depend on the individual school so it may be that your children can attend a school outside of the catchment and perhaps the ultimate solution may be a school that’s in between you and their father. Now that option may open up a whole new can of worms, but in my experience it can also be the best way forward to a final and mutually acceptable solution!
* Please note that this content is based on Australian law and is of a general nature which should not replace independent legal advice.