When parents separate, it is not uncommon for their children’s education to become an area of disagreement. Perhaps one of you was more willing to compromise when you were together, or one parent’s priorities have changed now they are living away from the family home.
Parents who have a child or children in private school, or who had previously agreed that their children would attend private school from a certain age, can find themselves in dispute about who can and should pay school fees. If you are focused on what is best for your child(ren), it can seem very unfair, especially if your ex has started a second family and is refusing to pay school fees because of this.
Is there anything you can do?
It depends on your circumstances.
If your child is in private school and you are in the process of separating:
If you are married and in the process of divorcing and negotiating a financial settlement, it may be appropriate to have a discussion about how school fees will be met. If an agreement cannot be reached, then the court can make an order to make one party pay or contribute towards private school fees. The court will look at a range of factors when making a decision, including the intentions of both parents, if the child is already attending a private school, the resources of the parties and their ability to pay. If there are any children from a previous relationship, their education may also be relevant.
If you are not married (or if you are already divorced and have reached an financial settlement but there is no order in place for school fees) you can make an application to the court for school fees to be paid for the benefit of a particular child or children. The court will decide each case on the facts. The court has a very broad discretion and must have regard to ”all the circumstances of the case” including the income and financial responsibilities of each parent, the needs of the child and the expectations relating to their education or training.
If you have a court order directing your co-parent to pay school fees but they are refusing:
If there is already a court order directing that school fees should be paid by one parent, then the starting point is that the order should be followed. It is an order of the court and it is not for an individual to decide that the order is no longer in force, even if there has been a change of circumstances. You may be able to take steps to enforce the order.
If there has been a genuine change of circumstances and your ex-partner can no longer meet private school fees, then your ex-partner can apply to the court to vary an existing order. There must be good reason for the variation and your ex-partner will have to provide evidence of any change in circumstances. If your partner is refusing to follow an existing order, or if there is an application to vary an existing order, then we would recommend that you seek advice from a family solicitor.
What if your child is not attending a private school at the moment, but you want them to do so in the future?
If you cannot agree with your partner whether your child(ren) should go to a state or private school, it is open to either parent to ask the court to decide. The court will look at a number of factors including the intentions of both parents and how any other children of the family have been educated.
If the court directs that the child(ren) should attend a private school, it is possible to make an application for the school fees to be paid by one parent. The court may be asked to consider whether it is reasonable that both parents should have to make some sacrifices as a result of decision about private school and whether is appropriate that the cost should be shared in some way. It is often possible for co-parents to reach an agreement with the help of solicitors to avoid court proceedings.