Making decisions about your child’s education is tough at the best of times and where both parents have parental responsibility, all important decisions relating to the child should be made jointly. But what are the options for separated parents who don’t agree on where their child should go to school?
If discussions between the parents themselves are not working, they may consider seeking outside intervention. This could be someone informal, such a family member or mutual friend, or they may wish to consider hiring a neutral facilitator, such as a mediator.
Mediation involves a professional third party helping to facilitate a discussion in the hope an agreement can be reached. It is an entirely voluntary process and not suitable in all cases, but it is necessary to consider it as an option before pursuing more formal routes.
If conversations in mediation are not proving to be successful, arbitration could be a good option. An arbitrator, who is jointly appointed by the parents, can be asked to make a decision and impose a final outcome. Similarly to the more formal court proceedings, this method produces one final decision, but it can be done much more quickly than the court process.
Finally, if the parties cannot agree and do not want to use mediation or arbitration, an application to court can be made. This should always be a last resort, but if an application is made, the court will consider both parent’s viewpoints before making a determination which they believe to be in the child’s best interests. Depending on the age of the child, the court may seek their views direct. For most cases a representative of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) will be appointed to speak with both parents and the child, and they will then assist the court by making an impartial recommendation as to the outcome that they think is in the child’s best interests.
There are many reasons why conflict can arise in relation to schooling; it may be a disagreement around a faith school, geographical preferences, a need for specific SEN provision or competing facilities. The court will take all relevant factors into consideration.
To mitigate such conflict, it is advised that parents start having discussions about children’s schooling as early as possible. Whether separated or together, talking to other parents, visiting the schools, looking at OFSTED reports and carrying out research is key. If a court application is required parents are encouraged to take early legal advice and to make any application in good time of the application deadline.