The Great School Run – school fees on divorce

May 16, 2017

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School fees on divorce. In this blog, associate Carla Ditz looks at the dilemmas many parents face when considering a school for their children and how this affects separating couples.

The newspapers recently announced that Prince George will be attending a £6,000 per term nursery school in Battersea. Attention was, of course, drawn to the cost of such an education and jaws will have dropped. The truth is, however, that the figure of £6,000 (or not far off it) is not uncommon amongst many of the private schools in London. With average school fees for a private education in the UK now reaching £14,102 (or £16,572 in London), and increasing every year, many parents will wince at the thought of how much this represents out of their total household outgoings. The cost of schooling becomes a further focus of attention when parents separate and their children have many more years of education ahead of them.

The schooling system

In the UK, broadly speaking, we have a two tier education system – the private schooling system and the state-provided schooling system. The differences within the two systems can be vast, both in cost and quality of education as well as in educational facilities. This can also be true within each sector.

The problem faced by parents can, however, be two-fold. For many, the private sector has become prohibitively expensive. In London, parents can easily expect to have to part with the tidy sum of approximately £2,000 – £3,000 per term for pre-prep/nursery, £4,000 – £6,000 per term for junior school, and over £5,000 per term for senior school. Over the course of the year, therefore, parents could easily be spending no less than £17,000-£18,000 on one child’s education. This figure does not, of course, take into account additional school expenses such as uniforms, school trips and the cost of extra curricula activities and the number could easily more than double if the child attends boarding school. The figures are simply eye watering and many families are priced out of a private education.

Where the children do attend private schooling, this cost will form a significant part of the family’s annual outgoings. The Independent School Council’s annual census now places the cost of educating a child from nursery to sixth form at £204,807. Where bursaries or scholarships, for example, are not available, some parents will look to grandparents for assistance.

For those parents instead considering their local state school options, there is a different problem. Despite having their eyes set on the local Ofsted ranked ‘outstanding’ state school, the competition can be so great that your child may not secure a place. Parents are then left in the position of getting their child into the next best available school in their catchment area or further afield. If the next best alternative is in fact not a particularly attractive option (due to Ofsted rankings etc), then this presents a whole new dilemma. All of this can be particularly stressful for the family who had banked on their children attending a particular local state school and who may have purchased a property in the area based on the appeal of that school.

Separating families

So where does this all come into play when considering separating families? In the course of divorce proceedings, it will become apparent to all that the money in the family pot will need to be divided between the parties. No matter how this is done, allowances will certainly need to be made for re-housing, for example, and, potentially, for school fees. Where resources are now required to fund two households, funding private school fees for one or more children may raise important questions of affordability. Any parent would do whatever they can to avoid uprooting their children from their current school if at all possible.

Aside from the question of affordability, some separated parents may simply disagree about which school their child should attend. This may be the case where one parent wants the child to attend a faith school, for example. Where the parties have reached an impasse and simply cannot agree, it is possible for a parent to make an application to the court. Before applying to court, the applicant will first have to consider whether mediation can assist the parties. Many find that mediation does in fact provide them with the right setting in which to have the discussion whilst hopefully preserving the parenting relationship.

The issue of schooling for separating couples can, in some cases, become a hot topic for debate. Some parents will perhaps need to consider deferring a private education until secondary school in favour of a free state education and the preservation of limited family financial resources. Where parents disagree, mediation and children focused arbitration can help parents to have this discussion and air their concerns. Finally, whilst it may be undesirable, the parties may have recourse to the courts in the absence of agreement. The issue of funding a university education will, in many cases, need to be considered too.

Carla Ditz is an associate at Family Law in Partnership. She advises on all aspects of divorce, children and cohabitation matters. Carla also has a keen interest in religious divorce, in particular the Jewish Get, and advises clients on what steps need to be taken and at what stage during the civil divorce process. Carla’s aim is to develop fair and practical solutions to the problems that may arise during family breakdown. She helps clients manage family disputes in the least confrontational way possible producing a positive, workable outcome for the family going forward. Where the involvement of the Court is necessary, Carla guides clients through the litigation process focusing on the specific needs of each client. Contact Carla at E: cd@flip.co.uk or T: 020 7420 5000.