PRIVATE VERSUS PUBLIC – education, a common mediation topic:

Recently there have been a number of cases before the Family Court where one parent proposes the children attend a private school and wants the other parent to pay some or all of the fees associated with the private schooling.

Amongst the Australian community as a whole, there are varied views and beliefs on the pros and cons of private schools. In intact families, there is surely debate around whether children within the family will attend public or private school. One of the top considerations is the cost involved. At many private schools in Sydney, parents need to budget approximately $180,000 for just one child to attend Year 7-12. If parents want their child to attend a top tier private school from kindergarten to year 12, they are looking at $350,000 plus.

When parents separate or divorce, the problem that arises regarding educationis if they do not agree on the schooling for their children, specifically whether they will attend public or private school. This is an issue we commonly see in the mediation room and it is one which parents hold strong views about and there is often emotionally charged debate.

One common issues thatarises is often that when parents were together, they had planned to send their children to a private school. Perhaps they had the children’s name down and had paid a deposit, but now post-separation, one parent has changed their mind. Perhaps their ideas about education have changed or it could be that they are now unwilling to take on the financial burden or maybe it is a values belief in that theyno longer believe a private school is the right choice for their child.

Other cases include where children were attending private school originally but now post-separation, one parent feels that it is no longer financially viable for the children to remain in a private school and is happy to consider other options. In these scenarios sometimes other family members most often grandparents step in and pay the children’s private school fees for a period or indefinitely.

Some parents feel very strongly about this issue and attend mediation because they cannot resolve the dispute over the child’s schooling. Part of our role as mediators is to help each parent listen and understand the other parent’s perspective. The shift can be made when both parents look at their children’s needs and balance that with their values as well as what they can financially commit to. A common outcome is that one parent may provide consent for the children to attend a private school but the insistent parent pays the majority or all of the school fees.

If parties are unwilling or unable to resolve the dispute in mediation then this can sometimes be left for a Judge to decide. In this scenario not only are extensive legal bills spent which may be otherwise have spent on a child’s education, but the decision is also handed over to a Judge as to which school the child will attend and who will or will not be paying any associated fees.
There was a case reported in the Australian this month, where the mother wanted the children to attend a prestigious private school and the father opposed this. The Judge in the case stated that he was not prepared to force the husband to do something against his principles as: “that would ¬involve me entering into an in¬appropriate …determination as to the value for the private and public education … (when) there is no evidence as to what style of education would be in the best interests of the children.???

The Judge further ruled that the mother was ¬entitled to enrol the children at private schools next year, “provided (she) be solely responsible for the school fees???.

Disputes over public versus private schooling between parents is a topic that Hawke Segal Mediation regularly deals with – if you are considering mediation as an alternative dispute resolution process in regards to a parenting matter please contact us with any questions or queries on (02) 8036 5596