School Fees: Providing for your Children’s Education in Divorce Settlements
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, particularly against a backdrop of rising school and university fees. The need to ring-fence wealth in a divorce settlement to ensure that your children can stay in their school or university of choice is important and often, a pressing concern for many parents. In addition, your own friendships and social life may be centred on your child’s current school; change can be difficult for both parents and children.
The difficulty some parents face when considering ongoing school fees as part of a 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.
With that said, “needs” are not the same for everyone. Depending on the extent of your family’s outgoings and what your intentions were and have been, the Court will take different views on the needs of the child. And even where your financial circumstances have changed substantially following divorce, it is not unusual for a Court to approve an order for school fees to be paid by way of a financial agreement, as part of a final divorce settlement.
Steps to take now
Reaching a final divorce settlement can take some time, but there are some ways you can assist your child and their school before this stage.
Firstly, keep your school in the loop: it may be that the fee 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 would both struggle to pay the school fees going forward, 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, consider seeking the advice of a family law expert who can help you secure your child(ren)’s school or university fees as part of your divorce settlement, and who can advise you on the best way forward.