Schools and Separated Parenting
We are often asked questions about what schools can and can’t do from both parents’ points of view when they are separated but have children in the school. Given that schools are such a big part of children’s lives they often become involved to some extent when families break up. It is usually worth making the school aware that there are changes at home (without necessarily giving them lots of personal information) so that they can keep an eye on the children and be aware if the children are upset or behaving out of the ordinary.
Here are a few commonly asked questions and answers: –
- Can I go to parents’ evening?
It is always best for children if parents can communicate and work together so far as the children are concerned, even if they really do not like each other! Both parents attending Parents Evenings, Sports Days or school concerts together, if they can remain civil, will show the children that you are still united so far as being interested in how they are doing is concerned. With the best will in the world this is not always possible. If you have Parental Responsibility for the children (unmarried fathers may not have if not named on the Birth Certificate and they have not acquired it, which is possible but a separate subject) you should generally still be involved in education issues, you can ask for copies of school reports and newsletters to be sent to you and can also ask for separate meetings, which usually the school will try to facilitate.
- Can my ex take the children from school without my permission?
Even if the children live with you and possibly may not even see the other parent, if the other parent has Parental Responsibility then without a court order preventing this the school cannot legally stop the children going with their parent (unless they deem them to be at risk of harm e.g. if the parent is heavily drunk, when they could call the police or children’s services for assistance if needed). If this is a concern, the school can be notified and may put an arrangement in place to contact you if this situation arises so that you can try to get there yourself or take any legal steps you need. If there is a genuine reason why the other parent should not take the children, which puts the children at risk and there is a concern that this will happen you should apply to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order preventing removal of the children, which would then give the school legal authority to refuse.
- Can the social worker or CAFCASS see the children at school?
If a report is needed for the court or other purposes relating to the children and the children’s wishes and feelings need to be taken into consideration, meetings will often be arranged (usually with your agreement) to see the children at school, which is a neutral setting, away from any direct emotional involvement in the situation. This is often better than going to their office which will be unfamiliar and more worrying for the children.
- My ex won’t let me see the children, can I go to school to see them?
We have come across some situations where schools have facilitated this but generally, we would say do not do this. Schools don’t like to be put in the middle of parental conflict and do not know all the facts of any case. School should be a safe place for the children and is generally somewhere they can enjoy themselves with their friends away from the stress of the family breakdown. Involving the school in this way or both turning up and arguing over the children at the school gates brings the conflict into the school environment as well, increasing the stress and worry for the children when the aim of both parents should be to minimise any emotional harm to the children.
These are just a few scenarios that often arise relating to children on separation. If you need any advice or assistance on any family law matter our specialist family team will be happy to help.
Written by Carol-Anne Baker