(514) 861-4367

When going back to school isn’t easy: Tips for separated parents

Montreal family law firm Goldwater, Dubé understands the challenges of going back to school when you and your ex have some conflict over the choice of school.

Following a separation, the prospect of going back to school can be as daunting for parents as it is for kids. When you and your ex are in conflict over a certain school being right for your child, our lawyers at Goldwater, Dubé can help you as they have helped hundreds of families with legal issues surrounding child custody and disputes around joint decision-making.

Disagreements over choosing a school for your children – Goldwater, Dubé can help answer your questions

If your child has just started a new school this year, your decision-making phase will probably have taken place months ago. However, even right at the start of the new semester, many parents and children are still unsure about whether they made the right choice.

Divorced or divorcing parents often experience conflict when it comes to the choice of school for their children, sometimes requiring Court intervention or negotiation between the parents’ respective attorneys to resolve.

Goldwater, Dubé has represented parents as well as children in these sorts of disputes. Our family law expert can help guide you through how this process works and put your best case forward.

In cases where the Court is presented with resolving a parental dispute over the choice of school for a minor child, it is guided by certain key principles.

Main factors that the Court will bear in mind

  • As it is with any decision that impacts upon a minor child, the Court’s primary concern is always the best interests of the child.
  • To assess these interests, the Court will consider the child’s age and maturity, hobbies and interests, social network, and any behavioural or academic particularities or aptitudes or health needs, and see which school can best address them.
  • With respect to age and maturity, the older and more mature the child, the more likely it is that the child’s wishes will be granted more weight, especially if the child is 12 or older. Maturity is often weighed by the considering whether persistent acting out behaviors are present or, on the other hand, if the child is particularly responsible.
  • For an example of particular hobbies or interests, if the child is a serious hockey player, a school with a competitive hockey program would be relevant.
  • In terms of social network considerations, where appropriate, the Court will try to ensure that the child goes to the same school as his or her other siblings and/or friends in order to help maintain social cohesion.

Individual differences that the Court will consider

  • As for behavioural particularities or health needs, if a child has challenges such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), the Court will try to ensure that the school provides or accommodates Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) specialists and/or an individualized education plan, in coordination with speech and occupational therapists, where needed.
  • An example of academic particularities would be a child who is struggling to achieve good marks in their current public school and so the Court might be disinclined to send the child to an elite private school with more stringent academic standards lest he or she fall further behind with this new peer group.
  • If the child is being bullied at his or her current school and school administrators have been unable to help stop it, this can be another reason for opting to change schools.
  • Another relatively straightforward consideration might be the distance between the school and the parents’ homes and the ease of pick-ups and drop-offs.
  • Expert reports from a child psychologist or testimonies from the child’s caretakers, health care providers, tutors, or coaches could prove important in helping to sway the Court.

Taking parents’ wishes into account

While everything must serve the child’s best interests, the parent has the right to express their point of view as to what they feel is important for their child’s upbringing.

In this regard, the Court will consider the moral, religious, and cultural values of the parents when considering, for example, a private religious denominational school. If one parent sincerely values sending the child to a public school, this perspective also merits attention.

The financial means of the parents is also a central issue to consider and indeed, the costs associated with private schooling are often central to disagreements. Parents can make a case that it is financially unreasonable to send their child to an elite and expensive school, even if the school might better serve the child’s interests. If this argument is made, it would be important to consider any bursaries or donations from third parties that the child might benefit from to help offset the costs.

Conflicts of loyalty

Whenever a child is involved in a legal dispute, the Court may try to suss out whether the child is caught in a conflict of loyalties or parental alienation is at play. Children sometimes find themselves trying to please one parent at the expense of their own interests or ally with the more influential parent against the other. When a parent or other interested parties make such allegations, the Court will be extra mindful to assess whether the argument over choice of school has become more of proxy power struggle between the parents rather than a true sober assessment of what the child needs. Independent voices might then become more important, such as reports issued by a child psychologist or unaligned caregivers.

Aspects of the decision-making process for parents to consider

If you are presented with a dispute with your ex about the choice of school for your child, you are not alone. These disputes are actually quite common and our firm has the expertise to help counsel you, negotiate on your behalf, or litigate the matter. That said, always remember that, the “best interests of the child” is the primary determining factor the Courts consider so remind yourself of the following:

  • This decision is about your child; it is about their needs and well-being.
  • Consider whether the school has a program that is suited to your child’s particular academic needs.
  • Always bear in mind your child’s own opinions and wishes, especially if they are mature and performing well in their current school.
  • Consider social factors such as where your child’s friends will be and where their siblings attend.
  • Be realistic about whether the family can sustain the costs of private schooling and, if the budget is tight, go the extra mile in terms of finding help through special bursaries or generous friends and family members.
  • Try to put your child’s interests before the conflict you may be having with your ex and do what you can to make your child feel safe and free to express their interests.

If you find yourself faced with a conflict surrounding the choice of school for your son or daughter, we are here to help. We can provide sound and compassionate advice based on our wealth of experience make tough decisions easier on you and easier on your kids. Your children are your world. We will defend your rights.