Back to school – what happens if parents cannot agree?

As from September 2020, parents will be expected to return their children to school for the start of their Autumn school term.  This will be the first time that most children will be back at school since the full lockdown in March 2020.

Notwithstanding the government having indicated that fines could be imposed if parents do not return their children to school, some parents remain unconvinced that it is safe for their children to return there whilst there is still a pandemic.  It is unsurprising therefore that some parents are finding themselves at odds over what to do in the best interests of their child or children.

Where there is a disagreement over a child’s education, namely whether they should return to school in the Autumn, it is important for parents, particularly those who have separated, to communicate with each other early and openly about their concerns.  It could also be helpful for them to engage with their child’s school in order to understand more about the types of measures that shall be implemented to protect children from the spread of the virus.

In cases where one parent remains unpersuaded, open discussions between parents led by a mediator could be considered as the next port of call.  The mediator will help to manage discussions with parents with a view to helping them reach an agreement.  Mediation can be arranged relatively quickly and is commonly taking place via video conferencing in view of social distancing requirements.

Should mediation break down, or if the parent withholding their consent to their child returning to school is unwilling to engage in the process, the other parent can make an application to court for a Specific Issue Order.  The purpose of this type of Order would be to compel the attendance of their child at school.  As that parent will be keen to ensure that their child can start school as soon as possible in the Autumn term, it will be necessary to make this application on an urgent basis.  The court shall make a decision based on what it considers to be in the best interests of the child.  In determining this, the court shall take into consideration all the welfare needs of the child including their physical, emotional and educational needs.

It is worth pointing out that Child Arbitration should be considered as an alternative to litigation.  With Arbitration, the parents will bring their dispute before a fully qualified Arbitrator for resolution.  The Arbitrator is usually a highly experienced Solicitor, Barrister or Judge and to that end, extremely capable of presiding over the matter.  By opting for Arbitration, parties may find that they avoid both the potential delays and costs experienced with contested court proceedings.

For further advice on resolving disputes about a child’s return to school, please contact us at Tisshaws Solicitors on 01444 472700 to arrange an initial appointment at a fixed fee.

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