Choosing a secondary school can be tough if parents disagree
Choosing a secondary school for your child can be tough if you are divorced or separated. Rebecca Moore of Coodes Solicitors’ Family team shares her tips on overcoming disagreements.
If your son or daughter is getting ready to start Year 6, you are probably now focusing on choosing a secondary school. In Cornwall, the deadline for secondary school applications for September 2018 is 31st October 2017. For most parents, this may be a little daunting as the prospect of your pre-teens starting to get a real taste of independence creeps ever closer. For others though, the issue of which school your child attends can be the subject of argument and upset, particularly if you are divorced or separated from your child’s other parent.
What is ‘parental responsibility’?
As a parent you will most likely have parental responsibility, enabling you to make important decisions about your child’s life, such as education, religion and medical treatment. Parental responsibility is automatically granted to a mother, and will be granted to a father if he is married to the mother, or if not married, if he is named on the birth certificate. Parental responsibility can also be obtained by a father by way of a parental responsibility agreement with the mother or through a court order.
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What if you do not want to send your child to the local secondary school?
Although most primary schools will have a local secondary school to which the majority of their students will attend, there is of course the option for parents to choose where their child will go. Whether you are choosing a state school or private school, you are likely to think about convenience, Ofstead reports, and friendship groups.
If both you and the other parent agree which school your child should attend it will merely be a case of filling out the relevant application forms and waiting for the school to confirm a place.
Where you do not agree, the situation is not as straightforward, but there are options available to assist you.
Use mediation in the first instance
In the first instance, you can attend mediation where a trained mediator will assist you and the other parent to have discussions between yourselves. This will give you both the opportunity to discuss your views in respect of both schools and consider the concerns raised by the other in the hope that an agreement can be reached.
If mediation is not successful you can seek legal advice. A legal advisor will be able to enter into negotiations with the other parent on your behalf.
What if negotiations fail?
If mediation is not successful and negotiations fail, the only option remaining would be to make an application to the court for a Specific Issue Order under the Children Act 1989 to determine which school your child should attend. This means that the court will consider the information provided by both you and the other parent and make a decision as to which school the court determines it to be in your child’s best interest to attend.
Specific Issue Orders can also be obtained to deal with other disputes around the upbringing of your children, such as what region they will follow or to obtain consent to go abroad on a holiday.
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What if the other parent has made plans to enrol your child in a school without your permission?
If the other parent has already made plans to send your child to a school, or is considering taking your child out of their current school and placing them into another school without your consent, it is possible for the other parent to apply to the court for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent this from happening. The court will then consider which school it would be in your child’s best interest to attend before a move takes place.
Prohibited Steps Orders can be obtained to prevent the other parent from exercising their parental responsibility without your permission, such as to stop the other parent from taking the child from your care without your permission or preventing a move to another part of the UK or the country. Any decision made by the court would be final and legally binding and any breach of the order carries penalties if a parent does not comply with the terms.
The only way to change the terms of an order would be to reach agreement with the other parent or to apply to the court to vary the order. Proceedings can be costly and should be a last resort. It is therefore always the best approach to try to reach an agreement.