Many parents will be faced with the task of choosing a school for their child as the applications for new school places open in the autumn. However, what happens when parents don’t agree on the choice of school?
Disagreements over the choice of school can arise over fundamental issues such as whether a child should attend a religious or non-religious school, a fee paying, state or independent School. Parent’s preference of school may be down to whether particular schools offer certain activities or wrap around childcare. When parents are separated, arguments can also occur over the distance of a particular school from either parent’s home.
It’s usually the case that both parents have parental responsibility for their child. Mothers have parental responsibility automatically and Father’s acquire it by either being named on the child’s birth certificate or being married to the child’s mother. Where both parents have parental responsibility, they both have a say in the choice of school and any disputes should be resolved before the application for the school place can be made.
So how are these disputes resolved?
Traditionally couples who can’t agree took the matter to court and allowed a judge to decide what was best for their child. This is a lengthy and often costly process which could produce an outcome that neither parent chose. The family court is struggling with capacity and cases can take a long time to come before a judge. When they are heard, there is often not much time for the judge to consider the papers and hear from the parents. Meaning the court has to focus on the key issues of the choice of schools and if necessary, putting in place a basic routine for the child to spend time with both parents.
However, the detail of these arrangements is still often left to the parties to determine, for example it’s not uncommon for an order to be made that the school holidays are shared equally but with no further detail. Having spent in some cases tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees and waiting months for a conclusion, parents are still left having to negotiate the finer details of the child arrangements.
Therefore, couples are increasingly keeping control of these decisions by seeking to reach an agreement through family mediation. Family mediation offers parents the opportunity to have these discussions in a series of confidential meetings with a trained mediator. Parents can spend time exploring the pros and cons of the various options in much more detail in a neutral and structured setting. They can then also consider any changes to that will be required to the child’s routine when they move to attend the new school and put in place a clear plan.
Family mediation is flexible and parents can have as many or as few sessions as they need to resolve their disputes. If they choose, they can be much more thorough in the plan they put in place, dealing with issues such as how the expense of school trips, meals and uniforms will be shared and how they’ll deal with issues such as childcare when the child is ill during term time. In some cases where it appropriate, both parents agree and the child is old enough, the child can be invited to participate in the mediation to have their voice heard.
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