Choosing a new school – what if separated parents don’t agree?

This week we’ve seen Instagram full to the brim of ‘first day of school’ pictures, whether it’s a brand-new school or little ones progressing to the next year. But choosing which school a child attends, especially between separated parents, can be an exceptionally difficult process. Here, Paul Reay looks at what the Court may decide if speared parents can’t see eye to eye.


A child’s first day of school is no doubt a big day, whether it’s their first experience of school or going back after the holidays. It is the start of something new for both parties, for the child, a new chapter, either the start of their life in education or progression onto the next phase. For parents, it is potentially the end of what has been an extremely demanding summer holiday. No doubt, if the camera turned to take a picture of the parent waving off their beloved child, there would be a glisten in their eye at the prospect of being able to have 10 minutes peace.


The decision of which school a child shall attend is of fundamental importance. It is the reality that a child will form close bonds with their classmates, some who could go on to become friends for life. I know from my own experience that the majority of my closet friends I met at school became lifelong friends, some of which became my best man and groomsmen.


Despite the importance that surrounds the decision of which school a child shall attend, sadly it is all too common for one parent to unilaterally make that decision which can be wholly wrong and at times unlawful. Separated parents can often become stuck when making the all-important decision, especially if there are differences in Parental Responsibility. If you share Parental Responsibility with your spouse, you should consult each other in respect of big decisions that relate to the wellbeing of your child. The decision of which educational placement a child shall attend is a decision where both parents’ views should be ascertained with careful consideration being given to both sides.


In the circumstance where both parents share Parental Responsibility, but one parent has made the decision on which school the child should attend, without the input or consent of the other, it could be demand unlawful.

Only this week, I was required to issue an urgent application to the Court, seeking a Prohibition Steps Order, preventing a Mother from removing a child from his long established place of education, just because she wanted to up-sticks and move to another part of the country with little or no notice given to my client. Despite raising his opposition to any proposed move his views were not respected, sadly discarded instantly, which happens all too often between separated parents.


If matters relating to a child’s school are put before the Court, the matter then becomes a question of what is best for the child and not what is best for the parents. The Court’s primary consideration will be the needs of the child and will have regard to the Welfare Checklist (s.1 (3) CA 1989) when reaching their decisions. A change of school will undoubtedly bring disruption and upheaval to a child’s life. Their support network and friendships may be broken especially if any change requires either party to relocate. Geography may require any previous agreement to be tweaked and if it is going to be the case that the child can’t see a parent often, then discussions need to be had about how this is managed; does the child have time in the school holidays, do they have the full week in the October half term?


The above issues identified are simply the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and of course there are other factors to consider including the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child. But they demonstrate why big decisions need and require careful deliberation with the views of both parents being respected and considered.


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