Back To School – Navigating Through A Separation With A Young Family

By 4 February 2020Family Law
family law

The hustle of getting the kids ready to go back to school is over. Uniforms are purchased, books are covered and the kids are now sitting comfortably in their classrooms, some for the first time – exciting times are ahead! For some separated parents, however, there may be uncertainty about commencing the new school year, particularly for those that have not reached an agreement about the future care arrangements for their children. This article will address some common questions and scenarios that we often come across in family law matters, as well as some suggestions on how to manage those situations effectively.

Attendance at School

In Queensland, there is a requirement that children attend school and that they attend on every school day unless they have a reasonable excuse (i.e. sickness). This requirement applies to parents that have children aged from 6 to 16 years old (or if the child has completed year 10, whichever occurs first).

It is well documented that regular attendance at school is beneficial for children (for a number of reasons), which has led to Education Queensland enacting the Every day counts initiative.

Non-attendance at school can lead to a contentious issue between parents and furthermore parents should be aware that a child’s poor attendance will be highlighted to a Court, should the matter proceed there.

Parents should try as best they can to ensure that their children attend school as regularly as possible. If for some reason you are having difficulty in this area it is best that you seek the appropriate support sooner rather than later. If the reason is due to the child not wanting to attend school, it may be necessary to engage the assistance of a counsellor or psychologist.

If a child cannot attend school for a significant length of time then it would be helpful to stay in contact with the school to see whether there is any work the child can be doing whilst they are away, any deadlines for assignments or when exams may take place.

Conduct at School

There will be a number of events throughout the year where parents are invited to the school and if both parents attend there is the possibility that they may need to communicate with each other.

Some parents are able to behave amicably and maintain a level of communication, which is fantastic because it means coming to agreements on decisions about the children is easier to accomplish. Others however may not be able to able to effectively communicate or be amicable toward each other, particularly if there are still some unresolved matters between them (with respect to parenting and/or property matters).

It is crucial that parents attempt to be as civil as possible and avoid any confrontations at the school. It will more than likely be the case that the children will be present (with their friends) and any kind of scene could be embarrassing for them and potentially put their emotional wellbeing at risk.

If the matter proceeds to Court then any scene caused at the children’s school is likely to form part of the material before the Court. More importantly, this may cause or perpetuate conflict between parents which could make it more difficult to resolve matters.

It is also essential that parents control their regular communication with the school and do not attempt to circumvent the other parent’s involvement (unless there are Orders in place that do this). An example of this would be directing the school not to provide the other parent with school reports or other crucial information about the children’s schooling.

Compliance with Orders

From time to time in family law we are presented with matters where the separated parents query whether there is any obligation from schools to ensure that the arrangements in the Orders are complied with.

This is an understandable question given the large portion of parenting arrangements that involve schools in some way. Commonly this involves:

  • Changeovers occurring at school so that time can be facilitated;
  • Children’s enrolment;
  • Provisions (sometimes restrictions) on parents attending events at the school; and
  • Provisions (sometimes restrictions) on access to information from the school.

Despite the fact that arrangements may involve the school it does not create an obligation for the school to comply or take any steps to ensure that there is compliance with the agreement or Orders.

If there are Orders in place which set out the parenting arrangements, those Orders only create obligations on the parties to the Order. In the majority of cases, the parties to proceedings are the parents, however in some cases this can extend to grandparents, aunts, uncles, adult siblings etc.

Should the parties to the proceedings be only the parents, then the obligation is on the parents to comply with those Orders. A school would be considered to be a third party and therefore there is no active obligation on the school to ensure that the parents are complying with the Orders.

However, third parties (such as schools) will face consequences if they intentionally prevent a person from complying with a parenting Order or they aid or abet a contravention of the Order. In a more practical sense, there have been little to no cases that have explored a school preventing a party’s compliance with an Order or aiding and abetting a contravention of an Order. It is generally the case that schools have policies and procedures in place to manage the needs of separated families.

To assist the school it would be helpful to provide them with a copy of any Orders that you may have in relation to the children. If you have recently separated and/or there are no Orders in place, it would be helpful to inform the school of the separation and any informal agreement reached.

Separated parents are likely to face a number of hurdles throughout this stage of their lives and the lives of their children. If you find yourself going through a separation and need guidance on how to navigate it, or would like to discuss drafting an agreement, please do not hesitate to contact the experienced and dedicated  Toowoomba family lawyers team at Murdoch Lawyers on 1300 068 736, we are ready to help.

This publication has been carefully prepared, but it has been written in general terms and should be viewed as broad guidance only. It does not purport to be comprehensive or to render advice. No one should rely on the information contained in this publication without first obtaining professional advice relevant to their own specific situation.

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