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Family and divorce

How can I ensure my child gets the best education?

Buffy Meyrick answers a Financial Times reader question on what to do when there is disagreement between ex-spouses relating to their child’s schooling.

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My ex-husband and I have recently divorced. We have a son who is due to start senior school this year and I am worried that my ex-husband and I will not agree on which school our son should attend, for example whether it should be rigorously academic or more focused on a rounded education? How can we preempt any disagreement — and what happens if we cannot agree?

You and your ex-husband both have parental responsibility for your son and should both be involved in making important decisions affecting his upbringing. The steps you take in deciding his schooling should be taken jointly, so it is good to pre-empt this issue and start the conversation early.

Ideally, you would be able to speak directly to your ex-husband about this, in person or in writing, and discuss the options. Practically speaking, there should be a school that can cater to both of your preferences in terms of educational style and it is important to continue to parent together despite the breakdown of your marriage.

If circumstances are such that you cannot have a conversation together, it may be possible for solicitors to correspond on the point for you or you could consider mediation. Mediation is a voluntary form of out of court negotiation, involving a neutral third party who can assist and advise you both. Often, parties find it useful to have this structured form of discussion, held in a non-confrontational environment.

If you are still unable to agree, it would be possible to issue a court application. However, this would not necessarily be appropriate or proportionate in the circumstances, especially considering your son is at senior school age. At 11, his views will be taken into account. They will not necessarily be determinative, but they will play a part. The court begins to place much more weight on the child’s wishes and feelings at the age of 12 or 13. Therefore, the court is likely to be influenced by where your son says that he would like to go to school, assuming it is a sensible choice and unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.

So the emphasis should be facilitating discussion between you and your ex-husband well in advance of the next school year and placing your son at the centre of this discussion. You should consider your son’s best interests and the environment in which he is most likely to thrive — whether that is academic, rounded or a mixture. You and your husband should respect each other’s views and your son should have voice on the matter.

This article was originally published in the Financial Times on 2 January 2020: https://www.ft.com/content/88e468d0-e2b2-464d-bee8-4f48d1e4d540

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