Principal of Justice Family Lawyers, Hayder specialises in complex parenting and property family law matters. He is based in Sydney and holds a Bachelor of Law and Bachelor of Communications from UTS.
As a divorced parent enrolling a child at school, there are several things to be aware of that you would not have had to think about while married or in a relationship.
When parents separate or divorce, their child’s education can be affected as schools rely on the cooperation of parents to provide children with the best education.
Parents have a responsibility to care for their children, fulfilling parental duties in terms of the children’s welfare and development.
Schools have an obligation to ensure that students are provided with the opportunity to achieve their educational potential. The assistance and cooperation of parents are very important in meeting this obligation.
When it comes to family disputes, the school is not there to act as a go-between or conciliator for the parents. All disputes should be worked out by agreement or in court.
The school acts with the best educational interests of the child in mind, but the child’s education is primarily the responsibility of their parents.
Divorced Parent Enrolling A Child At School
Parents must advise the school immediately of any change in their family circumstances that might impact the relationship between the family and the school.
This is especially important for a divorced parent enrolling a child at school in regards to court orders.
Parents must provide the school with copies of court orders that affect the interaction of one or both parents with the school.
For example, these court orders may pertain to parental responsibility, who the child lives with, how the child divides their time between households in cases of joint custody, or apprehended violence orders that prevent a parent from approaching the school.
The school requires copies of relevant orders to ensure that they can continue to meet the child’s educational and welfare needs.
Usually, the principal is the person who keeps these orders and other information. They would determine whether the child’s other teachers should be aware of the court orders.
How Does A Single Parent Manage Enrolment
Enrolment is considered a major long-term issue in terms of parental responsibility.
This means that if parents have equal shared parental responsibility, they must make the decision about their child’s school enrolment together.
However, there may be court orders that grant one parent sole parental responsibility for all issues or for the issue of education.
In this case, the parent responsible for the child’s education does not have to consult with the other parent when deciding where to enrol their child.
The Department of Education’s main focus is that all children of compulsory school age are enrolled in and attending school or are registered for and receiving home schooling.
Issues may arise if a divorced parent enrolling a child at school is doing so when the child is already enrolled in an attending another school.
This usually occurs when one parent moves to a different location during a dispute.
If the other parent does not have parental responsibility regarding education, then this enrolment can take place.
However, if the other parent does have a right to contribute to deciding where the child should go to school and does not want the child to change schools, the school principal can use the short-term and part-time attendance provisions.
These provisions allow a student to be enrolled in a “home school” while attending or concurrently being enrolled in a “host school.”
They may attend the host school on a short-term basis, for up to one school term, or part-time, up to 2.5 days per week.
This should give the parents enough time to resolve their dispute about the child’s school, either by agreement or through the family court.
Accessing Information From The School
Unless there are court orders that grant the other parent parental responsibility or specify their access to this information, a divorced parent enrolling a child at school is not required the inform the other parent about the enrolment.
A school can usually provide information to the non-enrolling parent, or a lawyer acting on their behalf, about their child’s enrolment, as long as there are no court orders that would make this unlawful.
Contact details for the child or one of their parents, including emergency contact details, cannot be provided to the other parent without the first parent’s consent.
During family disputes, relatives such as siblings, grandparents and other extended family members may seek information about a child from the child’s school.
Without the consent of the parent the child lives with or who has parental responsibility, the school cannot provide other relatives with this information.
The school can provide information to other people if allowed by a court order, as well as to police officers and government departments.
If there are no court orders, both parents have equal access to school-held information about their child.
For a divorced parent enrolling a child at school, if the child lives primarily or exclusively with this parent, the school will forward all documentation to their address.
Picking Up Children From School
Orders relating to custody often allow custody changeovers to occur at the end of the school day when the next parent to take the child home will pick them up.
If you are a divorced parent enrolling a child at school, it is important to consider how custody arrangements might impact on your relationship with your child’s school.
For example, one parent might drop the child off at school on Friday morning and the other parent will pick them up on Friday afternoon as the child will stay with them over the weekend.
If there are no specific court orders, either parent has the capacity to pick their child up from school.
Court orders may also be about the contact and communication a parent can have with their child.
Generally, a school is not the appropriate place for a parent to have court-ordered contact. Contact should occur outside of school hours.
However, contact may take place if:
- The child does not object to seeing the parent
- There are no court orders preventing the contact
- The contact is to take place at a time that will not interfere with the regular operation of the school
- There are no concerns for the safety or well-being of the child, any other students or staff
Disregarding the other points, however, if the child does not want to see the parent, the school should not allow contact to occur on school premises.
Parents should not use the school for communication with their child, such as phone calls or leaving letters or gifts.
When a parent whom the child does not live with arrives at the school with the intention of removing the child from school grounds, this is often a cause for concern.
In the absence of special circumstances, a parent cannot generally take their child away from school during school hours.
The school will refer to court orders or seek the views of the parent the child lives with.
The school principal will not permit the other parent to remove their child from the school premises if:
- The parent the child lives with objects to the removal of the child from school, or if they cannot be contacted
- The child does not want to leave with the parent at the school
- The child becomes distressed after being told that this parent wants to take them away
- The school principal has reason to believe that the child’s safety may be at risk if the parent takes them away
The school will then ask the parent to leave the school grounds and to resolve the issue with the other parent away from the school.
If the parent refuses any reasonable request to leave or if they become agitated or aggressive, the school can contact the police.
Parental Involvement In School Activities
Both parents may attend school activities and be involved at the school, so long as there are no court orders that prevent their participation.
Both parents may visit the school the speak to the principal or the child’s teachers.
When there are court orders in place, the parent to which they refer will not be excluded from school activities unless there are specific orders that make their attendance inappropriate.
At events where both of a child’s parents are attending, the school should consider any history of animosity between the parents before allowing both of them to come.
The school’s main concern is the prevention of disputes that will impact the normal operation of the school, its events and its activities or that will put the safety of the child, other students, staff or parents at risk.
Parents should not expect the school to act as a conciliator in their family disputes.
However, where appropriate, the school will reasonably attempt to make a compromise that allows both parents’ participation in school activities.
A divorced parent enrolling a child at school may wish to become involved in a variety of activities at the school, such as canteen duty, helping with reading classes and assisting with supervision on excursions.
These activities often bring parents into contact with their child at the school, and it is possible that this contact may be outside of contact times allowed for parents who are the subject of court orders.
If court orders such as an apprehended violence order make the parent’s participation inappropriate, or if the school is genuinely concerned for the child’s safety, or the safety of other people at the school, they will deny the parent participation.
However, some contact may not be considered as contact under court orders, such as sitting the audience during a school performance or seeing the child in the playground while working in the canteen.
Without specific court orders, the school will not deny the parent participation in these activities, as it is incidental contact.