Going through a divorce? Here’s how to safeguard your child’s school fees.

When going through a divorce, if you’re a parent, you’ll undoubtedly want your child to experience the least amount of disruption as possible. A large part of this may be trying to keep them in the same school with their friends. If, however, your child goes to a fee-paying school, you may be worried about whether these payments will continue. It’s worth noting that school fees are not considered by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which applies a formula to instead calculate the amount of child maintenance a parent will be required to pay, or will receive, for their children. As such there may be quite a lot of uncertainty about school fee payments, which could add stress to what can be an already anxious time. Laura Mortimer, family partner at B P Collins’ advises.

Reaching an agreement directly with your spouse

Involving the courts to determine how your child’s school fees will be paid should always be a last resort, because it is always in a child’s best interests to have parents who are in agreement. No matter what you and your former spouse think of each other, those feelings should be kept away from your children.  Moreover, the court process can be very slow and costly. A good family lawyer will, based upon their experience, suggest possibilities you might not have thought about and explore other options to help reach an agreement, including mediation or arbitration.

If Court is the only option…

If Court is really the only alternative, the Judge will have the complete authority to order that you and/ or your former spouse pay the school fees. If there is enough capital available, this can be done by creating a school fees fund that, more often than not, the parties hold jointly. Alternatively the court can make a school fees order requiring the fees to be paid termly to the school by one or both parents from their income.

Whether the Court is willing to order provision for school fees will depend very much upon the circumstances of the case and the funds available. The court will also have to consider the income, earning capacity, duration of the marriage, contributions, standard of living during the marriage, part of which will be the children having a private education.

Ultimately however the fees still need to be affordable and the court view school fees as a luxury not a necessity because there are good state options available. Whilst the child’s welfare will be the Court’s first concern, this means meeting their housing needs and ensuring they are clothed and fed – and so making sure both parents have a secure roof over their heads, and sufficient income and child maintenance, will take priority over school fees.

Helpful tips to protect your children’s school fees

  • It is vital that you and the other parent are certain about how the school fees are paid. If, for example, they are paid from a joint account, you will need to prepare for the possibility that your former spouse may stop paying into it when you’re going through a divorce. A family lawyer can tackle this early on and record an agreement in writing.
  • The school should be made aware of any changes in your financial situation. Perhaps your child could be eligible for a scholarship or a bursary? It is also worth finding out if the school will provide a discount for fees paid in bulk up front.
  • If your child needs to move to another school, play close attention to the notice period, as there may be more fees left to pay before your child is able to leave.
  • All those with parental responsibility for the child need to give their consent before the child can change school. If the parties are not in agreement, and all other forms of alternative dispute resolution (such as mediation) have failed, then an application will need to be made for the family court to decide which school the child should attend.

For further guidance, please contact Laura Mortimer in B P Collins’ family team at laura.mortimer@bpcollins.co.uk or call 01844 397397.

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Laura Thumb
Laura Mortimer
Practice Group Leader

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