When you split from your partner it can be difficult to navigate the process of 'co-parenting' without feeling as if you are being 'frozen out' of parts of your child's life.
An example of this is a situation where the residential parent unilaterally decides to change your child's school. It could be that they have moved to a new area after your separation and it is more convenient for your child to attend a local school. However, for you, the change in school may make it more difficult for you to have meaningful contact time with your child, or, you may be concerned about the additional upheaval in your child's life.
You may or may not be surprised to learn that if the residential parent decides to apply for a new school place, the new school would not necessarily make efforts to find you and seek your consent.
In this situation, the first question to ask yourself is: Do I have Parental Responsibility ('PR') for my child?
If you have PR, you have the ability to make important decisions that affect the child's upbringing – which includes where and how they are educated.
PR is not always a straightforward concept.
A biological mother will automatically have PR, as will a father who is married to the mother either at the time of birth or afterwards. An unmarried father will have PR if they are named on the child's birth certificate or:
- they have a Child Arrangements Order in relation to their child which names them as the residential parent or,
- they have a court order granting them PR or
- They have entered into a formal "parental responsibility agreement" with the mother.
Assuming that you have PR, the first thing you should consider is whether you can have a discussion with your co-parent in order to raise your concerns and reach an agreement. If you can't do that together you could consider mediation and enlisting the help of a neutral third party to facilitate your discussions and help you explore all the options. For more information on our mediation services click >here.
If it is not possible to reach an agreement this way, then you may apply to the court for a Specific Issue Order. The court would make an order on the 'specific issue' of whether your child should move schools. When deciding the case, the court's main concern will be the welfare of the child.
The court might listen to arguments relating to what is more convenient for both parents, but ultimately, their decision will not be informed by these arguments.
When deciding on what is in line with the welfare of the child, the court will look at several factors. These include the child's emotional and educational needs, the likely effect on them of any change in circumstances and the child's own wishes and feelings (where they are of sufficient age).