Back to School, Back to Reality

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As children and parents alike return to the new normal of schooling during a pandemic, some may be wondering who gets to decide on a child’s education when parents separate or have separated?

If communication has broken down when discussing topics such as school enrolment, costs, and location, it can lead to confrontation and add unnecessary stress for everyone involved.

The Family Law Act 1975 provides that a child’s current and future education, religion and change to a child’s name is considered a “major-long term” decision which usually requires both parents to come to a joint decision.

The Act further provides that there is a presumption that both parents will have “shared parental responsibility”, which includes jointly making decisions about major long-term issues such as your child’s education.

The only time “shared parental responsibility” will not exist is if the Court decides that it should not or if a statutory exception exists such as where one parent has been found to have been inflicting harm on a child.

Making “major-long term decisions” about your child’s education could extend to decisions such as removing your child from and/or enrolling your child in school, addressing serious behavioural issues and academic progress and/or learning difficulties.

Acting without input from the other parent may cause the Judge to scrutinise your actions if your matter later comes before the Court.  This will result in the Court questioning your willingness to involve the other parent in the child’s life and your ability to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent.

Enrolling a child is a two-way street and it is important to remember that if only one parent signs an enrolment form then a contractual relationship only exists with the school and that parent.  The result is that the school will only seek payment from the enrolled parent regardless of any other private agreement between parents.  Further, if you are the parent refusing to agree for a child to attend a different school then be aware that the school can still accept the enrolment of the child without your authority.

To assist both parents with being up to date with events and information relating to a child, ensure that the school is aware that both parents are to receive relevant information including when fees are due and notification about enrolments.  If you find it difficult to communicate with the other parent, you can request this from the school directly or alternatively Shanahan Family Law can assist you with developing a parenting plan or consent orders to minimise communication breakdowns and conflicts.

Court proceedings should be a last resort and the process of mediation for example can allow for constructive discussions and solutions that everyone can agree to.  However, if your matter is urgent and falls within a narrow range of exemptions, Shanahan Family Law can assist you in urgently filing an application with the Court.

If you are concerned about a parent making major decisions without consulting you, or if you are the parent considering a new school for your child, we recommend you act well in advance to allow sufficient time to speak to one of the Lawyers at Shanahan Family Law who will guide you to a child focussed resolution.

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