Parental disagreements: who decides where a child goes to school?

Deciding where your child should be educated is one of the most important and personal choices a parent can make. Different types of schools can have an enormous impact upon your child’s development, wellbeing, and future career.

No doubt as a parent you will want to visit local schools, read Ofsted reports, and consider which type of school will suit your child best. For divorced parents, however, choosing a school involves further complications, especially if you do not agree on which school your child should go to.

As Divorce & Family Solicitors, many of our clients come to us for help with disagreements about schooling. Some issues include the school’s distance from your home, choosing between fee-paying or state school, concerns about bullying and friendships, and more. This blog is written specifically to help separated or divorced parents in finding a solution.

If you are a parent encountering disagreements with your partner and need urgent legal support, contact our specialist family solicitors on 01273 604 123, email, or fill out our online enquiry form.

Who decides where a child goes to school?

Whoever has parental responsibility for a child has the right to a say to which school they should attend.

Parental responsibility is automatically given to birth mothers and to fathers who are married to the birth mother on or after the child’s birth or registered on the child’s birth certificate after 2003. You can also obtain parental responsibility through the Courts with a parental responsibility order.

We’ve talked about it, but can’t agree

No doubt if you are reading this article you have discussed schools with your ex-partner and have disagreed on where your child should go to school. We’ve helped lots of parents who have gone through this problem. Some examples of disagreements around schools are:

  • Your ex-partner lives far away and wants the child to go to school near their house
  • One of you prefers fee-paying school and the other state
  • One of you prefers a religious school
  • You feel your child is particularly suited to a type of school; for example, a sporty child might thrive in a school with a specialist sports centre and sports clubs. The other parent disagrees.

If you feel you have tried everything (including mediation) and still cannot find a resolution, it may be time to speak to one of our family solicitors now about making an application to the Court for a Specific Issue Order, as it is necessary to act quickly.

What does a Specific Issue Order cover?

A Specific Issue Order covers a particular issue regarding the child such as deciding what religion they should follow, whether they should have a certain medical procedure, or whether their name can be changed.

In this case, it could be which school the child attends. The Family Court will review all the evidence and make a decision that centres on the best interests of your child, taking your concerns and the concerns of your ex-partner into account. If you need a Specific Issue Order, it is vital that you have a good family solicitor to prepare the Court application and provide the best representation for you in Court. Our experienced team have a sound understanding of how to present a meticulous application and provide outstanding representation of your needs.

Who pays school fees after divorce?

School fees are often reviewed during the financial settlement of a divorce. If fees for schooling were not considered during your divorce settlement, or you were not married to your ex-partner, then an application can be made to the Court for a School Fees Order. This can cover a portion of, or all, the school fees, in addition to school uniform, fees for school trips, and extra-curricular activities.

This is not a clear-cut issue and depends upon the individual circumstances of each family. When deciding upon a School Fees Order, the Court will look into several factors, including:

  • The income of both parents
  • If the child attended a fee-paying school before the parents separated
  • The benefits that the child reaps from their schooling

The needs of the child, and whether remaining at the school, or in fee-paying education, is significant for the child’s wellbeing
Our expert family solicitors are experienced in applying for successful School Fees Orders. Speak to our team today for specific, personalised advice.

Does it still apply if my ex-partner and I were never married but share a child together?

Yes the above does still apply. If you are unable to agree with your ex-partner as to whether your child should attend a fee-paying school, or who should pay the fees, an application can be made to the Court for the benefit of the child.

The Court will take a wide range of factors into account to determine whether such an Order should be made. Some factors that are most likely to be considered, but are by no means exhaustive, will be the resources of the parties, the needs of the child(ren) and intention behind the application being made.

Can I refuse to pay school fees?

If your ex-partner has a School Fees Order and you fail to make the required payments, then they can make an application to the Court for enforcement. However, if you find yourself no longer able to pay fees due to a change in your financial circumstances, such as losing your job, then you can apply to the court to vary the order. If you disagree with a School Fees Order, contact our team confidentially on 01273 604123 or fill out our online enquiry form for advice.

When should I speak to a solicitor?

Time is of the essence. If you are unable to come to an agreement with your ex-partner then seek advice as early as possible. If an application for a Court order needs to be made to request or prevent a new school, then our team will look at making an application on an urgent basis.

As a concerned parent, it is very important that you are listened to, and your feelings considered when choosing a school for your child. We offer all clients an initial diagnostic meeting with one our family solicitors, who will take the time to understand what has happened and listen to your needs.

We will then talk through your next steps, taking into account your wishes and our legal expertise. We will look at the individual circumstances of your relationship with your ex-partner and the needs of your child, discuss the potential issues, and agree upon a plan of action that works for you.

If you would like to speak to our friendly and expert team, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, call us on 01273 604 123 or email at


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