The debate between divorcing parents about whether or not their child should attend private school - and who should 'foot the bill' - is not a new problem. However, parents are growing ever more concerned about securing their children’s future at their school or university following divorce. Perhaps the cause is rising school fees or the introduction of tuition fees. The need to ring-fence wealth in a divorce settlement to ensure that one’s children can stay in their school or university of choice is a pressing concern for many clients. Indeed, for many parents, their own friendships and social life are centred on their child’s current school. Change can be difficult for both parents and children, and we at Tees are here to help your family find the best way forward.
The difficulty some parents face with providing for school fees as part of your divorce settlement is that the Court will always prioritise on the basis of needs, and outside of the usual child maintenance provision. School fees are often perceived as a luxury in the Court’s eyes that, unfortunately, many cannot continue to afford once their essential needs have been met on divorce.
Clare Pilsworth, Partner at the Tees Cambridge office, advises that “The Court does not prioritise school fees, and will treat the expense as a decision for that individual after they have met the expense of housing.”
With that said, “needs” are not the same for everyone. Depending on what the extent of the families’ outgoings and what their intentions were and have been, the Court will take different views on a person’s or child’s needs.
Indeed, the Court has historically criticised parents for not continuing to pay school fees where the family had previously covered said fees, and could continue to afford to do so: “[The Respondent] sententiously expressed the view that what children need is love and time. Actually, like everyone else, they also need money.” (K v D (Parental Conflict) (2015) para 20).
Even in circumstances where one’s financial circumstances have changed substantially following divorce, it is not without precedent for a Court to approve an order for school fees to be paid: This does of course come with the caveat that “both [Parents] have to make sacrifices as a result” (WD v HD (2015) para 56 Moor J Judgement).
Financial Remedy Consent Order – school fees
Reassuringly, most cases are resolved without a Final Hearing, in which case a divorce settlement will be enshrined in a ‘Financial Remedy Order’. This is an agreement reached outside of Court (but approved by a Judge) between you as to how your wealth should be divided on divorce. Therefore, no matter how the Court would decide your case and providing you and your former partner are still in agreement, it is largely up to both of you how you wish to divide your finances. Therefore, if you are both in agreement then the arrangement can usually continue.
Varying a current Order
If there is an Agreement or Order already in place, and you are struggling to make payments due to a change of circumstances, you can apply to the Court to vary the Order. If this is something you would like to discuss with us, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Steps to take now
Reaching a final divorce settlement can take some time, but there are some ways you can assist your child and your school before this stage:
Firstly, keep your school in the loop: it may be that the school or university invoice is addressed to both you and your ex, which means that you are both liable. If the payment has historically been made by your partner, you may wish to inform the school of your change of circumstances and ask that invoices are sent to them in the future. If your partner refuses to pay these fees, you may wish to consider a maintenance pending suit application which – if successful - could order your partner to pay the costs until the final settlement.
If you decide that you both would struggle to pay the school fees going forwards, your school bursar may be able to help you and suggest a reduction or postponement in fees. If no postponement is possible and there is no viable way for the school fees to be paid in the future once your needs have been met, you may need to consider alternative schools. If this is the case, then be sure to give your school plenty of notice that your child will be changing schools, so you are not liable for the next term’s fees.
Lastly, seek expert advice. Here at Tees we help many parents with securing their children’s school fees as part of the divorce settlement.
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