Back to school, but who’s paying the bill?

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Back to school, but who’s paying the bill?

10 Sep 2018

Following the breakdown of a relationship, arguments about who is footing the bill for your child’s private education can add further stress to an already emotionally and financially challenging time.

Below, we aim to ease this stress by taking a look into the key issues and options for separated parents.

Your concerns

When your relationship breaks down you are forced to think about stretching the family’s resources across two households. Concerns about meeting private school fee payments can lead to anxiety about changes in your child’s standard of education and disrupting friendships during an already turbulent period.

Issues for consideration

Factors you need to consider

1. Affordability

– Is a private education a luxury you can no longer afford to provide?
– Could your extended family contribute?
– Does the school allow for siblings discount?
– Are assisted places or bursaries available?

2. Status quo

– The courts are reluctant to disrupt the continuance of private education where one or both parents could meet the payments and will expect both parties to make compromises including reducing maintenance payments payable to a spouse – can you make compromises elsewhere?

3. Age and needs of the child

– Could you compromise on a state primary education and a private secondary education?
– Does your child have special needs that would be better accommodated by private education?

Your options

Divorcing parents

When a couple gets divorced, whether they have children or not, they need to consider their financial relationship and how their assets and income should be divided between them. When a divorcing couple have children, this will include consideration of how the financial needs of the children should be addressed.

Payment plans can be addressed during financial remedy proceedings in the form of periodical payments earmarked for school fees – the order can set out details of:

1. Who pays what?
2. When?
3. How will they pay it?

This type of order is known as a school fees order and can be made by the court following agreement between the parties, or imposed by the court if no agreement can be reached.

Former cohabitants

Although there are generally no formal legal proceedings which follow the breakdown of a cohabiting relationship, it is sensible to consider your financial position and record any agreements reached in a separation agreement.

As with married parents, you can negotiate and reach an agreement which is formally recorded by the court in a school fees order, referred to above.

Also, under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 the court is able to make order for periodical payments for the benefit of the child of an unmarried parent.

You may simply be unable to reach agreement regarding payment or whether your child should be privately educated at all. In this case, either parent can apply to the court for a specific issue order to determine whether your child should be privately educated. You must demonstrate that the child would be adversely affected by moving schools or by not being privately educated.

What if the order has already been made?

If an order is already in place requiring you to pay school fees and you can no longer afford to meet these payments due to a change in circumstances, an application should be made to the court requesting a variation of the order.

Planning Ahead

Forward planning when considering private schooling for your child enables you to discuss how payments will be dealt with should your relationship breakdown.

Parents should always seek specialist family law advice in the event of a relationship breakdown if they have any uncertainty about their financial rights or obligations.

Contact us here to speak to a family law expert.

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