When choosing a school is not child's play

It is that time of year again when we see a procession of new Primary 1 children making their way to the school gates for the first time. That first day at the school gates is a daunting moment for children, and for many parents. Imagine then, what it must be like for children whose parents are separated and not able to speak to each other to make arrangements for a child’s smooth transition to school. Worse still, imagine a situation whereby parents cannot agree upon which school a child is to attend.

Many would think that this would be an unusual situation. It is, however, more common than many would think. The law in relation to most matters to do with children is clear that it is what is in the child’s best interests that should happen. How then, when there are two parents with competing views as to which school it would be best for a child to attend, is the matter to be resolved?

Initially, it is hoped that parents will try to discuss matters between themselves.  If that is not possible, it may be that mediation could help parents move forward. This would allow parents to discuss the matter in a safe environment with the aim to find a constructive and workable solution. There are various agencies that offer mediation services in Scotland to assist in such circumstances. It may also be that parents take the decision to instruct solicitors to enter into negotiations on their behalf. Ultimately, however, if parents cannot reach an agreement about the way forward, and agree on which school to register the child at, the Court may require to become involved.

Should Court action be required, a Sheriff would be tasked with the difficult job of looking at what arrangements would be in the child’s best interests. That is not an easy decision to make when looking at which school a child is to attend. Each case will turn on its own facts and circumstances, with the best interests of the child central to any decisions which are taken. After full consideration, a Sheriff can make an order stating which school a child is to attend. A Sheriff can of course only order that a child is to attend a particular school if they are able to secure a place. The usual applications will therefore be required to be approved.

In recent times we have seen an increase in such cases before the Courts. At times a Sheriff will be tasked with deciding which state school a child is to attend, which may well have implications in relation to which parent a child spends time with and when. At other times a Sheriff will be tasked with making an order regulating whether a child is to attend the local state school or a fee-paying school. Such decisions will usually also require to include provision as regards who is to pay what towards school fees if it is decided if a child is to attend the fee-paying school.

Whilst cases such as these will be given priority by the Court if the start of the school terms is near, they still take time to process. It is therefore essential that if it appears there is to be a disagreement about which school a child is to attend parents seek to discuss matters, and if need be instruct solicitors, as soon as possible.

Thought should be given to the uncertainty that disagreements such as this may have upon a child.  Starting school is a special, but often nerve-wracking, time for a child. It is therefore essential that, if it is in dispute, the issue of which school they are to attend is resolved as soon as possible so as to allow the child time to prepare for what is one of the biggest days of their young lives. It also allows parents to make the necessary preparations for what is equally a huge day in their lives.  

As always, getting good advice is essential.

The Drummond Miller family law team is extremely experienced in dealing with all aspects of family law including separation, divorce, and child-related matters. If you would like any further information or advice, please get in touch with our experienced solicitors in Edinburgh, Dalkeith, Musselburgh or Bathgate