Family law issues such as managing separated families and their complex family law arrangements can be difficult for schools to navigate at the best of times, however, these issues become increasingly intricate with the addition of COVID-19 regulations around distancing and limiting travel. This blog will explore some of the common family law questions and then explain the obligations that schools have in common situations where issues arise.

Common Questions About Family Law and Schools

What are the Rights and Responsibilities given to Parents and the School?

Parents often contact the school to assert their ‘rights’ to access their child or request the school to take the steps that they want. The Family Law Act (1975) Cth does not confer parents with any ‘rights’ and instead the obligation is to act in accordance with the best interests of the child when determining what and how much time each parent is able to spend with their child. This notion is consistent with the school’s duty of care to the students, rather than to the parents. When considering the best interests of the child, the court encourages meaningful relationships between the parent and the child and it protects that child from harm or from being exposed to family violence.

What is Equal Shared Parental Responsibility?

The Family Law Act (1975) Cth provides that there is a presumption of equal shared parental responsibility. Under this shared responsibility, it is important that both parents are given all information concerning the child. This can include school reports, newsletters and information about school functions. Due to equal shared parental responsibility, if there is a significant long-term issue regarding the child and their education, parents are required to consult with each other and make a genuine effort to come to a resolution. Furthermore, it is not the school’s job to ‘police’ the parenting arrangements. The parents have an onus to provide the school with updated orders and if they provide conflicting instructions the school can require that the parents deal with the conflicting instructions themselves and then report back.

What are Intervention Orders?

Intervention orders are becoming increasingly frequent in family law matters. An intervention order, previously and commonly known as a restraining order, is an order that prevents a person from behaving in a particular way towards another person or persons. The interaction between family law orders and intervention orders is often complex. Although a family law order will usually prevail over intervention orders in the event of an inconsistency, it is important for a school to understand their obligations in these circumstances, especially in instances of family violence. In circumstances where the school is concerned for the safety of the child, or there is an emergency situation, the safety of the child comes first.

What are Subpoenas?

A subpoena is a document issued by the court that requires either documents to be produced or for attendance of a staff member at a hearing to give evidence. It is common for parents who are before the court to request access to confidential documents to give evidence of the status of the child’s wellbeing. If the school responds to the subpoena it is important to seek independent legal advice in order to safeguard against any breaches of privacy for staff or students. There are circumstances where schools may object to a subpoena, for example, if a subpoena will have an adverse impact on the child or is too broad. However, if no objection to the subpoena is raised the school must comply in full or there is a risk of being in contempt of court.

Common Situations Where Issues Arise:

School Pick Up

In general, Court Orders will make note of the time that the child spends with each parent. This typically includes who will pick up the child on particular days. It is important to note that step-parents are allowed to have time with their step-child during their spouse’s time with the child, hence requests made by parents to prevent step-parents from collecting the child from school are often not granted.

Lack of Court Orders for Pick Up

If the parents do not have a formal agreement or court orders the school is able to request a parenting plan or a written agreement from the parents that details who collects the child on specific days.

Enrolment

In general, parents are to both sign the enrolment agreement at a school and are to be jointly and severally liable for the payment of school fees. In circumstances where one parent wishes to cease payment due to separation, there is no obligation for the school to change the payment arrangements. Changes may be made if the school so chooses, or they may be needed if there have been interim orders made or further evidence has been provided as to the parents’ agreement to change fee payment.

Withdrawal of Enrolment

Due to the equal shared parental responsibility of parents there needs to be consultation between the parents before decisions are made regarding long term issues, including changing the enrolment of the child.

Contact Us

Family law matters can be complex and stressful. Our experienced family law team at Etheringtons Solicitors are ready and willing to assist you with your matter. If you need any assistance please don’t hesitate to get in contact with one of our lawyers via our contact form or call us on 02 9963 9800 for a no-obligation discussion.