Picking a High School can be a difficult decision for most parents, but post-separation this process can be particularly difficult.
Regardless of a separation, parents will need to consider factors such as a school’s academic performance and support, sporting facilities and sporting history, against artistic focus, social aspects and location. The decision about a child’s school is a joint decision and where an agreement cannot be reached, the Court will need to be involved and an Order. The Court is a third party decision maker and the Judge will take the decision and choice away from the parents.
In a case decided last year by the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, Judge Coakes was faced with the difficult, yet all too common problem of deciding a school for X, a 12-year boy. X and his parents identified as Aboriginal, and X had previously shown a strong affiliation and love for his culture. The case takes into account not only differing opinions from both parents, but also the potential significance of cultural and religious factors in making these decisions.
In this case, both parents proposed different schools for differing reasons. The Father wanted a public school that had a number of Aboriginal students and significant cultural activities. The mother wanted a private college that, whilst religious, also reported 25% of enrolments coming from families that do not identify with any particular religion. The college offered less cultural support, but still fostered Aboriginal culture, and taught above and beyond the required curriculum in relation to Aboriginal history and culture. The college also offered significant facilities in the areas of maths, science and computers, areas that X had previously enjoyed and excelled at.
What Does the Court Consider?
In making this decision and any other parenting decision, the Court will have regard to the best interest of the child.
Primary considerations identified by the Court in this matter were, the benefit of the child having a meaningful relationship with both parents, and protecting the child from physical or psychological harm.
The Court also considered the rights of the child to maintain a connection with their culture, as well as having the support to explore and develop appreciation for their culture. This consideration is one of many the Court is required to consider in determining what is in a particular child’s best interest. Each parenting dispute is different and the Court is required to consider the individual circumstances of each matter, weighing up the evidence to arrive at an order that is in that child’s best interest.
The Courts Decision
Ultimately the court decided that the college was the best place for X. The Court identified that X’s culture is relevant, but not determinative in the matter, and was satisfied that both schools offered sufficient cultural opportunities. It was determined that X is best served attending the college, due to the reasons outlined by the mother, and also having regard to the fact that the mother is the primary carer, and will have a greater responsibility for X’s day-to-day attendance at school.
The Court noted that X’s father is able to foster X’s cultural heritage and assist X in any conflict that may arise in matters taught at the college.
It is unfortunately the case that one parent will believe that the other parent has “won” and they have “lost” whenever the Court is asked to make a determination. In reality, neither parent is the “winner”. The costs associated with litigation, both emotional and financial, ensure that both parents suffer the “loss”. Litigation is often a matter of ‘principle’ and separated parents lose the control they once had over decisions for their children.
It is to that end that negotiation, collaborative law, mediation, arbitration and family dispute resolution can offer parents a way of ‘meeting halfway’ on an issue and avoiding the courtroom. Best Wilson Buckley has published a guide on these methods of dispute resolution that can be found here.
Take control of the decisions you make for your children.
Best Wilson Buckley Family Law has significant experience in all aspects of separation, including parenting matters, child support issues, property settlements and financial agreements. Our extensive expertise allows us to act on behalf of husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, grandparents, sibling, step-parents and business partners and creditors.