I recently posed about issues of parental responsibility and how parents need to try and make decisions jointly about major long-term issues for a child. One issues that can arise after separation is where a child will attend school.
During a relationship, parents may have discussed where a child will go to school and the type of school. There may have been an agreement that a child would attend a private school for part or all of their education. Sometimes there may be no option other than for a child to attend boarding school as a result of the location of a parent.
A common issue that I see in my practise is there being a disagreement about where to send a child to school and who will pay for it. Even though parents may have reached an agreement during the relationship, that does not necessarily bind them moving forward. Separation can have fi nancial implications for both parties and this can have an impact on the ability to meet costs such as private school fees.
Ultimately, parents need to assess their ability to meet school fees and how this could be shared. This may mean making some compromises about who pays for certain things such as tuition fees, books, excursions, or laptops. The legislation sets out a number of objects which were included in the Act to support the long standing principle of ensuring that the best interests of children are the priority of not only parents but also of a Court.
Unfortunately, the child support system does not recognise the payment of school fees as being essential for a child and does not take this into consideration under the general assessment of how much child support should be paid. However, parents can reach an agreement to credit the payment of school fees towards their child support liability or agree to pay such fees on top of their general child support liability. To enable this to occur and be binding on both parties, a Binding Child Support Agreement
must be prepared and registered with the Department of Human Services – Child Support.
Where a child may go to school and the type of school can also be a major issue. Generally, the Courts do not like to become involved in these types of issues. If it becomes necessary for a Court to determine where a child will go to school, a judge is not likely to undertake a lengthy evaluation of why one school might be better than another.
The Court may take into consideration factors such as:
1. where a school is located (particularly if there is a shared care arrangement in place) and the type of school;
2. whether the is any religious or cultural preference;
3. whether the child may be gifted or talented in various areas and whether a particular school is considered as a centre for excellence;
4. any preference that the child may have expressed (subject to their age and maturity);and
5. whether a child may have siblings at a particular school.
Schooling is a major long-term decision for a child. It is not a matter that should be decided unilaterally by one parent.
This article originally appeared in the Summer Edition of Border Living Magazine – www.borderliving.com.au