For many parents, choosing a school for their child can be a difficult and confusing decision. There’s a lot to consider, such as the child’s needs and interests, and the family’s personal values, as well as more practical considerations such as location and fees.

Each school is different and it’s common for parents to feel anxious about making the right decision. This decision can become even more difficult for separated parents, particularly if they cannot agree on what school will be best for their child.

So, what happens when you and your former partner cannot agree on the school for your child? What should you do?

A starting point for navigating the issue of schooling can be understanding the concept of ‘parental responsibility’. Parental responsibility is a phrase that is often used in the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), in family law cases and in family law orders. Parental responsibility is the power to make long-term decisions about children and includes such things as decisions about a child’s schooling, religion or medical treatment. Parental responsibility is different to physical care of a child. A parent can have parental responsibility without actually having the child in their physical care.

Under the Family Law Act, there is a presumption that both parents have ‘equal shared parental responsibility’ for the child, unless the Court believes that one or both parents have engaged in ‘family violence’. This means both parents have an equal say in making decisions about major long-term parenting issues, including their child’s school.

The opposite of equal shared parental responsibility is ‘sole parental responsibility’ – this is when only one parent has the right to make long-term decisions about a child.

When both parents have equal shared parental responsibility, they should consult with one another and make a genuine effort to come to a joint decision. Neither parent should enrol a child in a school without the other parent’s consent and schools generally shouldn’t accept an enrolment without each parent’s permission.

Next Steps?

If you have spoken to your ex-partner about which school you would like your child to attend and still can’t reach a joint decision, you might consider taking these next steps to try to find a solution:

  1. Prepare a ‘wish list’ of qualities you want in a school and ask your ex-partner to do the same. Compare the list and see if you can come up with any alternatives that tick most of the boxes.
  2. Talk frankly and openly about the practicalities of all the proposed schools. Who will be doing the drop-offs and pick-ups? Can either of you afford private school fees? Are the schools within the right catchment area and are they accepting enrolments? It may be that thinking about all the logistics helps ‘reality-test’ each proposal.
  3. Attend a mediation session with a trained mediator and your ex-partner to try to resolve the issue. A mediator might be able to help you both find common ground.
  4. If all else fails, you could commence court proceedings in the Family Court or Federal Circuit Court. If the co-parenting relationship between you and your ex-partner has completely broken down, you might seek ‘sole parental responsibility’.

How can we help?

If you and your former partner are having difficulties agreeing on a school, it is always good to know your legal position as early as possible. Get in touch with our Family Law team on 02 6285 8000 or by email to discuss your concerns and the options available to you.