What to Do When You and Your Ex Can't Agree on Your Child's School

Making parenting decisions together can be one of the most difficult aspects of being separated from your ex-partner, especially if your relationship is less than amicable. The little choices are hard enough, but things can become very stressful when you're arguing over something as important as which school your child will attend.

Whatever the reason behind it, this dispute can hinder the school application process greatly. The law depends on the state you live in, but there's a chance that if you both have parental responsibility for your child, you'll both have to sign their school enrolment form. So what should you do if you and your ex are split on the matter?

Plan A: Try to Agree

If this has been an ongoing dispute, you have almost certainly done your best to agree with your child's other parent already. However, arguments about serious situations like this are often emotionally charged and fuelled by anger. If neither party is backing down, then it's time to do your best to take feelings out of the equation and look at the real pros and cons of each school. Things you may want to take into account include the following:

Who does your child live with for most of the school week? Who will be taking your child to and from school most of the time?

What is the school's reputation like? What are the NAPLAN results? Are the facilities up to scratch?

Does the school cater to any special requirements your child has, such as autism needs, dietary restrictions, or religious obligations?

If your child is old enough, don't forget to take their opinion into account. If you weigh up the pros and cons, you may find that the school your ex prefers is the better choice. Alternatively, you may realise that your choice would be far better for your child; presenting these findings to their other parent may persuade them that you're right.

Plan B: See a Mediator

If the pros and cons lists don't work, or your ex refuses to communicate with you, it may be time to bring the matter to mediation. Family mediation (also known as family dispute resolution, or FDR) is a way of resolving disputes without going to court -- in fact, it is usually compulsory to see a mediator before applying for any court order. This is a good thing as FDR is a cheaper way of resolving enrolment issues compared to a court case. At a mediation session, both you and your ex (and potentially your child) will be able to civilly discuss your school choice disagreement, present arguments and ideas and make decisions with the help of an unbiased third party. While this is often all that's needed to get both parents to see the right path, it won't always be enough.

Plan C: Seek a Court Order

If all other options have failed, you may need to take the matter to court. Seeking a court order should always be a last resort. Aside from any financial requirements involved, the process can be lengthy and stressful for all parties. Remember that it's often better to enrol a child in a school that isn't your first choice than to miss enrolment altogether. If legal action is required, sometimes having your solicitor contact the child's other parent is enough to make them reconsider to avoid the negatives of a court case. If they wish to continue with legal proceedings, your attorney will assist you in applying for a parenting order to make a decision on this specific matter (known as a Specific Issues Order).