Each year parents agonise over their child receiving a place at a good school. It can often be stressful, as the first preferred choice is not always successful. All parents want what is best for their children and a well-regarded school in a good location can sometimes be difficult to secure.


Parents who are separated may have conflicting views on which school they would like their children to attend. They may disagree on whether children should attend a private or state school, they may have different faiths which impact on school choices, or they might want their child to go to a school closer to them. These types of disagreement can become tricky to resolve and as school applications have strict deadlines, it can lead to a lot of anxiety.


Our Family Law Team explore how disputes over schools can be addressed.


Parental Responsibility


Many mothers or fathers will argue that because they have parental responsibility for a child, then they should have a say over which school they attend, legally speaking, this is true in some cases. The question is to first ask who has parental responsibility.


A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth.


A father usually has parental responsibility if he is either:

  • married to the child’s mother
  • listed on the birth certificate (after a certain date, depending on which part of the UK the child was born in)

When parent’s share parental responsibility for the children, that will continue even if parents separate.  The significance of that is that you are generally expected to consult one another over any important decisions affecting the children, such as important medical treatment, schooling, choice of religion etc until they reach the age of 18. This means you cannot unilaterally make a decision without the input of the other parent, if that parent has parental responsibility.


Considerations for School Choices


Both parents should take an active interest in the school selection process. Attending open days, reading prospectuses, asking for feedback and researching Ofsted reports can all help in deciding what the best options are for your child.

  • Which schools will provide the best opportunities for your child?
  • What are your child’s preferred choices?
  • How will your child get to school each day? What are the transport links like or which parent will be responsible to school pick ups and drop offs?
  • Is religion or faith a deciding factor for either parent?
  • What facilities, clubs or optional subjects are available?
  • Does your child have siblings, relatives or friends attending different schools?
  • Is school catchment an issue?
  • Does your child have any disabilities or special needs that would be catered for better at certain schools?
  • How does the school rank in terms of grades and Ofsted reports?
  • What is the school’s ethos?
  • Think about feeder or connecting schools for secondary school
  • Think about affordability and who is responsible for covering the costs

Separated parents dispute over schools family legal advice

When You Cannot Agree


If both parents fail to agree on school choices, then there are some options to consider. Firstly, you should both have a calm and sensible discussion to try and resolve the issue yourselves. Take on board both side’s opinions, try to be reasonable and both be prepared to listen and make compromises.


#1 Seek Legal Advice

A Solicitor can help give you some specific advice on where you stand, what you options or next steps are. A Family Solicitor who has dealt with parental disputes before can help give you some indicators on what is likely to be agreed on should the matter go further.


#2 Go To Family Court

Should you be unable to agree then you can make a Specific Issue Order which will be heard in a family court. CAFCASS will become involved to ensure children’s best interests are being considered and a judge will decide on the specific matter, of school choice.


#3 Prohibited Steps Order

This becomes applicable if one parent needs to prevent the other from exercising their parental rights. If there are welfare issues or one parent is threatening to take the child out of school or move away with them, then it is worth exploring this as a matter of urgency.


#4 Specific Issues Order

This becomes applicable if you are trying to settle a specific issue, like which school the child should attend. Pulling together the right evidence is important here.


Family Courts


The court will weigh up both parent’s arguments and consider what is in the best interest of the child.


At this point it is key to put aside any personal differences and make sure your child or children are in the centre of any decisions being made.


A solicitor can help you build your case, including all the details and reasons why you have certain preferences for schools for your child or why you object to your ex-partner’s choice of school. They can help you communicate in a clear, concise and confident manner and help you to understand what a family court judge is likely to consider as deciding factors.


Protecting Your Children


Whatever age your child is at, it is important to consider how an ongoing dispute about schools will affect them. They may already be impacted by their parent’s separation or have their own anxieties over moving schools or starting somewhere new.


Ensure that they are not subjected to heated arguments, overhearing disagreements or even brought into the discussions. If you child is of a suitable age, then it might be appropriate for them to have some input by sharing their own thoughts or preferences, but they should not be pressured into ‘siding’ with one parent over the other.


Getting Legal Advice


When it comes to your children and fighting for what is best for your family, then we understand how sensitive these matters can be and how important it is to resolve issues.


A solicitor can help to give you all the information you need, they can assist when communication between an ex-partner has completely broken down and can guide you through the process of attending family court if a resolution cannot be reached independently.


For more information or to speak to someone about issues you are facing with your child’s school choices or other parenting disputes, please call our expert team of Family Solicitors.


Call Lamb Brooks on 01256 844888, email enquiries@lambbrooks.com or complete an online contact form. Alternatively, you can speak to our website chat assistant (a real person, not a robot) who can help get things started by taking some of your initial information and arranging for a solicitor to call you back.


Other Articles You May Be Interested in Reading:

Talking To Your Teenager About Divorce

Introducing a New Partner to Your Children

Taking Parental Alienation Seriously

10 Golden Rules For Protecting Your Children During Separation


The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  The law may have changed since this article was published.   Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.