We Disagree On Which High School – How Do We Resolve This?

Choosing an appropriate school for children is often difficult, and even more so when parents separate.

This can be because of issues such as where parents now live, how much time the children spend with each parent (meaning travel time to school becomes a factor for everyone, including the child), parenting styles, and cost.    

Navigating the issue of a child’s schooling when parents have conflicting views can be challenging and delays in reaching agreement can cause significant distress and anxiety to all parties. 

The starting point of any discussion is that parents have (by default, unless there is a Court Order that says otherwise) equal shared responsibility for their child or children until the child reaches the age of 18. This responsibility relates to all the rights and obligations that parents have in relation to their children, including their education.  Shared parental responsibility does not change if there is a change in the parents’ relationship, ie separation or remarriage. Unless a sole parental responsibility Court Order is in place, any decision about schooling needs to be made by both parents.  If they cannot agree, and all other avenues of conflict resolution have been exhausted, then the matter becomes the subject of family law negotiations and, potentially, Court proceedings.

So what you should do if you and the other parent cannot agree on a high school?

Ideally, you should try to engage in a constructive discussion with the other parent, regardless about how you feel about that person or how they are behaving.  Parents may also want to take into consideration the views of the child who may have a strong preference for one or another option for high school.  

If there is a history of family violence, or other conflict, and it is not possible or safe to engage directly with your former partner, you should seek another avenue for negotiation such as dispute resolution or mediation in the first instance. 

If parents cannot agree on which high school the child is to attend, they have to attend mediation before Family Court proceedings can be commenced. The family dispute resolution process with a recognised and accredited mediator has a good settlement rate and often assists parents to understand the other parent’s view in a neutral, focused setting.  

If you are unable to reach agreement with the other parent, and have been through the family dispute resolution process, then the last resort is to commence court proceedings to apply for a parenting order. A copy of the s60i mediation certificate will need to be filed with the application.

Commencing Court proceedings is a time consuming, stressful and uncertain process. There is no guarantee of an outcome that either parent will be satisfied with. It can often exacerbate the level of conflict.

 We are strong advocates of dispute resolution and negotiation as a preferred route for settling family law disputes rather than going to court.

What happens during the court process?

The primary factor in the court’s ruling will always be what it perceives as being in child’s best interests. A child’s view may be relevant, but not necessarily determinative.

In making a judgment on a child’s education, the Family Court considers such things as:

  • The child’s current school and their progress/performance at the school
  • The school’s proximity to each parent’s home and the child’s primary residence
  • The school fees and each parent’s ability to contribute towards the payment of those fees
  • The suitability of the school in terms of the child’s particular interests (eg music, drama, sport)
  • Cultural or religious reasons for selecting (or rejecting) a particular school

Neither parent should enrol the child in a high school unless an agreement has been reached.  If you learn that the other parent has enrolled your child in a school without consent to do so, obtain family law advice immediately. 

We note that schools are not responsible for ensuring that parents comply with their legal obligations.  That is, it is not their duty to check on parenting arrangements if only one parent has signed the enrolment form.

In the event that parents separate and decisions on the child’s school need to be made (be it primary or high school), it is important to make a concerted attempt to discuss the issue well ahead of the start of the school year.  If parents are unable to reach an agreement, this will leave them sufficient time to get good, practical advice from a family lawyer and plan the steps towards a resolution.

West Family Lawyers in Perth operates exclusively in family law and has established a strong reputation as a family law firm that conducts its business with care, integrity, skill and strength. 

Please note, this article is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice.  For expert advice on family law matters, contact West Family Lawyers or book an appointment.

Natalie Dimmock

Natalie has worked in family law for 18 years, with skills and qualifications in law, mediation, psychology, management, and company directorship.

Natalie is equally comfortable at mediation negotiating a settlement and in the Family Court advocating for clients. She has experience in all areas of family law, including child support, financial settlements, and parenting issues. She is part of a small team of trusted family lawyers in Perth practising in the Family Court of Western Australia.

Find out more about Natalie here.

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