School Fees and Divorce - Family Law Partners

School Fees and Divorce

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For those parents with children in private school, one of their main concerns following a financial separation is understandably the question as to how the school fees will be paid.

When couples separate, the financial pressures on the family as a whole often increase, as there will usually be two households to run and therefore increased bills and daily outgoings. Nevertheless, ensuring that their children have the stability of being able to remain in their same school is often crucial to parents, especially given that parental separation can already be an emotionally difficult and challenging time for the family more generally. The difficulty parents face is that private school fees are a significant financial commitment for families, especially as the fees themselves are ever-increasing.

This blog will consider how school fees will be dealt with on divorce.

How can I deal with the matter of school fees on a divorce?

As with all disputes arising from a financial separation, there are many options that parties can take to resolve a disagreement they might have in respect of school fees.

As always, we would advise that parties first attempt to reach a resolution outside of court, as by doing so they will probably be able to save a lot of emotional stress and increased legal fees.

If things are relatively amicable with your co-parent, then it might be that you feel able to have a discussion with them relating to school fees directly. If the post-separation finances will be stretched, then a key challenge to work through as a couple is going to be the affordability of those fees moving froward and to establish whether ensuring the children attend or remain in private school is a financial priority for the family. It might be that you want to work together with a professional financial advisor in order to make a more informed decision as to the management of the post-separation finances and how school fees would fit into that. If an agreement is reached, then that can be recorded as part of an overall financial consent order.

If an agreement cannot be reached directly with the other parent, then you may wish to explore other out of court options such as mediation, arbitration, solicitor negotiations, or collaborative law. The court also has the power to make orders in respect of payment of school fees, although reverting to court should usually be the last resort for parents in these situations.

What is a school fees order?

A school fees order is an order made by the court as part of a wider financial settlement which records how the school fees should be dealt with, for example which parent should pay the fees, how are those to paid and for how long etc. Whilst there is no standard formula for school ‘extras’ such as music lessons, costs of uniform and activities etc., these are also elements that you may want to consider incorporating into an order to ensure that there is clarity in the order sought.

If the parents are not married, then a school fees order can be made under Schedule 1 of the Children Act.

When will the court make a school fees order?

As with all areas of matrimonial finance law, when a judge is determining the matter of school fees, there will always be an element of discretion in the judge’s determination

The court will generally accept that continuity in schooling is important for children who are experiencing parental separation, especially if they are in key exam years i.e.; GCSEs and A-Level years. However, unfortunately, just because a child has been attending private school up until your separation, the school fees are just one aspect of the overall financial picture, and as stated as above, it is going to come down to affordability. As such, if the family finances cannot reasonably be stretched that far, then the court may not grant a school fees order.  The reality is that the financial needs of the family as a whole will often have to take priority over the continuation of these private school fees. The resources of the family are going to therefore be especially relevant to the court’s determination under section 25 Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

Key considerations:

  • In any matter relating to school fees, proportionality has to be a key consideration. It is not proportionate to spend significant sums on litigating the matter of school fees, when the money spent on litigation could have instead been used to fund the cost of the school fees themselves.
  • As part of the resolution of the matter of school fees, it is always important to have a clear understanding of the cost of any additional expenses that will need to also be covered such as the cost of extra-curricular activities.
  • Given that the matter of school fees often comes down to post-separation affordability, it would be beneficial to engage in constructive discussions outside of court in the first instance with the other parent so that you can determine together whether there are any steps that the family could enable the school fees to be continue to be met – for example, if one parent had taken a step back from work previously, would it be possible for them to now re-enter the workplace to increase the funds that are available to meet school fees?
  • It is important that parents are aware of their separate contractual obligations to the school. This is because, if the paying parent defaults on a school fees order, this might leave the school contractually entitled to pursue either party for that payment. In such situations, enforcement proceedings may be necessary but again proportionality must be considered.

How we can help?

At Family Law Partners, our specialist lawyers understand the importance of the matter of school fees as part of a financial separation. If you are concerned about school fees as a post-separation issue, then please contact one of our expert solicitors who can discuss your situation further.

 

 

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