Who gets to choose a child's school?


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Who gets to choose a child's school?

The Federal Magistrates Court in Sydney recently dealt with the issue of which parent decides where a child attends school. This is a “major long term decision” and comes under the banner of parental responsibility.  In this case, the parents had such a difficult relationship that the Court decided that the parties should have equal shared parental responsibility for the child except for the question of education. Decisions in respect of education were to be made solely by the Mother.

Since separation there was evidence that the Father had refused to pay private school fees for the child unless the Mother reverted to her maiden name.  The Father had paid one- half of the school fees and was aware that the Mother had no financial capacity to make payment for the balance of the fees.  The Court found that the Father sought to use the child’s enrolment at a private school as a form of coercion against the Mother.  The Court found that it was the Father’s wish that the child attended at a private school but the Father acknowledged that he had no capacity to pay such fees and there was significant doubt as to whether the Mother would have capacity to make any contributions to such fees until such time as she was able to return to full-time employment.

The Court held that in this case, the presumption of equal shared parental responsibility should not apply and the Mother should be able to decide where the child attends school.

General Discussion

Parents must share responsibility for all major long-term decisions. Such decisions need to be made jointly by both parents.  Included are decisions about a child’s education.

It is always recommended that any enrolment at a school be done jointly by parents to show that both parties consent to such enrolment and both parties were involved in the process of deciding on the child’s education.  There is also an additional benefit as where the enrolment is joint, both parties will be jointly liable for any school fees.  If the enrolment is only signed by one parent, then the school can only recover unpaid fees from that parent.

Where parties have equal shared parental responsibility, both parties are able to contact the school, regardless of where the child resides. This allows both parent to receive any school documents such as reports, photographs etc.

Changing a child’s name is also a major long-term issue and must be made jointly by both parents.  A decision to unilaterally change a child’s name may result in an application to the Court and an adverse costs order against you.

As with all parenting issues, it is hoped that parties can work together to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child.