It may not be the first thing you think about after separation, however, the issue of who pays the school fees can be very contentious, particularly if your children attend a private school.
Sometimes people manage to reach agreement as to how school fees are to be paid at the time they separate. This often reflects the circumstances prior to separation in regards to the ability of each party to contribute towards these. Naturally, this may have been something that was easily agreed on during the relationship, however, after separation this can prove more challenging.
If one party has a higher income and has therefore primarily been responsible for the school fees in the past, then it may be that the parents agree that they will continue this arrangement into the future. If both parties agree, they can simply keep this as an informal agreement or, alternatively, they can formalise it. In order to provide certainty to each parent into the future, it is recommended that this sort of agreement be formalised in a binding child support agreement. This agreement can then be registered with the Child Support Agency and/or the court, and is enforceable should things go awry in the future.
If parents cannot agree as to who is to pay the fees, the first consideration needs to be whether the parents are actually in a position where one or both of them are able to continue to fund private school fees.
Of course, upon separation, the combined living costs of both parents will generally be higher than what they were when they were living together. All of a sudden there are double housing, double water, double internet costs and the like, and private school fees may be much harder to justify. Whilst it may not be the ideal outcome, in some situations it is important to consider whether it is financially viable for the children to continue in private education.
When there is a dispute, provided both parents have consented to the children attending a private school, then the parents are able to apply to the Child Support Agency for them to consider this as part of a special circumstances assessment. If successful with this application, the payment of school fees can be incorporated into a re-assessment to enable both parents to contribute towards these costs.
Each family is unique and has different issues that need to be considered, so it’s always worthwhile to get advice from an experienced Brisbane family lawyer if you need some help in getting through the minefield of who pays the school fees.