Not able to agree which school your children go to? Sometimes separated parents disagree when it comes to school choice for their children.

If you have parental responsibility for a child, you are entitled to be involved in the decision making on school choice and  other important decisions regarding their education.

Do I have parental responsibility?

A mother will always automatically have parental responsibility. If you are a father, you will only have automatic parental responsibility if you were married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth or your name appears on the birth certificate. 

If you don’t automatically have parental responsibility, you can obtain it by entering into a parental responsibility agreement or you can apply for a parental responsibility order through the court.

Without parental responsibility of the child, you will not be entitled to be involved in the decision when it comes to school choice.

What are the options for parents who disagree on school choice?

When separated parents disagree on school choice, they could try the following:

1. Try and reach an agreement: Discuss your concerns and the options for different schools directly with each other to see if you can reach a mutually acceptable decision. If you can agree, then you can simply go ahead with the change.

2. Mediation: You can attend family mediation to discuss your child’s education and school options with the help of an experienced mediator. If you are uncomfortable meeting with one other in the same room or there are safeguarding concerns, you can consider using shuttle or hybrid mediation.  You may also want to consider child inclusive mediation so that your children are directly involved and can have their wishes and feelings considered.  

3. Collaborative law or lawyer supported discussions: Using the collaborative process you will both appoint your own collaboratively trained lawyers and you and your lawyers will meet to work through the issues between you. 

You can also instruct a family lawyer to help you negotiate on school choice with the other parent or their legal advisor to see if you can reach an agreement.

4. Court application: The last resort for parents who disagree on school choice for their children is to make an application to court for one or both of the following:

  • Specific Issue Order: This is an application to the court which deals with something specific regarding a child, which can include deciding on which school the child attends.
  • Prohibited Steps Order: This is an application to the court for an order to stop someone from exercising their parental responsibility in a particular way. It can therefore be useful for a parent who thinks that the other parent is going to move their child to another school without their consent. You can ask the court to make an order to stop this.

5. Arbitration: By agreement you can select a judge or experienced barrister to make a binding decision for you. Arbitration is a direct alternative to court and will allow you to resolve an issue with your children’s schooling without the delay of the court process.

How does the court or arbitrator decide what orders to make?

Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 contains the statutory criteria for determining any question with respect to the upbringing of a child.  Section 1(1) confirms that the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration. 

Section 1(3) contains a checklist of factors the court should have regard to.   This is known as the ‘welfare checklist’ and will require the court or arbitrator to consider:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child;
  • The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
  • The likely effect of any change in circumstances;
  • The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics which the court considers relevant;
  • Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering; and
  • The ability of each parent of meeting the child’s needs.

The court will not consider an application unless you have attempted mediation or you fall into one of the exemption categories. For a detailed overview of all the alternatives to court see our guide to dispute resolution.

guide to dispute resolution .

How can Watson Morris help when parents disagree on school choice for their children?

The team at Watson Morris can help you navigate the law around parental responsibility and your children’s  education and schooling. For an initial free no obligation discussion to see how we can help please contact us.

Written by Faye Wright

May 25, 2023

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