Who pays the school fees on divorce?
We find that the payment school fees on divorce is often a contentious issue for separating parents. One parent may disagree about the affordability of private school fees at a time where one household is becoming two. Despite this, most parents would agree that stability and routine is important for their children during turbulent times such as divorce. At Expatriate Law, we also understand that for our expatriate clients in particular, it may be important that your children attend school in their native language. Free local schooling may not be an option available to you if you live overseas where English is not the first language. Many of our clients have children at boarding school overseas. These fees and associated costs must be carefully factored into a divorce settlement.
Do I need to tell the school we are separating?
The first thing to do is to ensure that your school is kept informed of what is currently happening. If you are considering divorce, the school may want reassurance as to how the school fees will be paid. The school can also provide support to your children during the divorce. You can avoid problems surrounding changing arrangements for pick up and drop off if the school are aware of the situation. You may need to ask that the invoices and other correspondence are sent to both you and your partner.
Secondly, you should talk to your partner to see if you can reach an agreement about the children’s school fees on divorce. It is important to discuss who will continue to pay the fees. You have several options if one parent refuses to keep paying the fees. One is to propose that the issue is dealt with through mediation or arbitration. These are both highly effective methods of resolving discrete issues such as this.
Alternatively, the school fees issues can be addressed by your solicitor. Our lawyers will help advise you on how to assess your and your spouse’s income needs. This allows you determine how income can be put towards school fees. You may find it helpful for our lawyers to write a letter to your spouse to set out how income can be allocated between both of you to meet both your needs and the children’s school fees.
We are used to advising on how expat packages can change on divorce, and how this can affect the payment of school fees. This is especially important when school fees are met by an employer as part of an expat package.
What happens if we can’t agree on school fees?
If you do not agree with your partner as to you may need to ask a court to decide this matter for you. This is usually seen as a last resort, when other options for settlement have been exhausted. Such application can be made under section 23 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (if the parties are married) or under Schedule 1 to the Children Act 1989 (where the child’s parents are unmarried). The application can be made on an urgent basis if needed.
It may be possible for you to apply for a legal services order. This is an order for your spouse to meet your legal costs in advance. We can discuss with you whether you meet the criteria for a successful legal fees application.
The court will consider some a number of factors when deciding whether to order that school fees be paid by one party. The court will investigate in detail whether there are sufficient financial resources to fund the school fees. This may mean some clever use of finances. For example, putting aside a savings fund or bonus in order to pay for the school fees. The court will also consider:
1. Are the children already attending private school?
2. If not, has there previously been explicit agreement between the parties that the children would attend private school at a certain age?
The court may also take into consideration how other children of either parent have received their education.
Speak to one of our specialist international family lawyers if you have questions or concerns about the payment of school fees.
You may also be interested to read our Guide to your financial rights on divorce.