The Issues Schools Face with Family Law Disputes

Jane Garraway

01 Dec 2021

Topics

  • Family Law

Schools often find themselves having to read and interpret family law court orders. There’s often a lot to consider including whether one parent has to authorise the other parent to collect the child from school, whether the school needs to send out two newsletters or reports, whether the school is to contact both parents in an emergency and even the practicalities on how changeover will occur at school – just to name a few.

Each set of family law court orders are different and it’s common for schools to be concerned with the correct interpretation of the terms and how they should operate in practice.

So, what happens when schools receive orders? What should schools do?

Where there are orders in place, schools should be provided with copies. A starting point for navigating the orders can be understanding the concept of ‘parental responsibility’. Parental responsibility is a phrase that is used often in the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), in family law cases and in family law orders.

Parental responsibility is in essence, the decision-making responsibility in relation to children. It is the duty, power, and authority to make decisions about children and includes such things as decisions about a child’s schooling, religion, or medical treatment.

Where orders refer to equal shared parental responsibility, both parents have a say in making decisions about major long term parenting issues and should consult with one another and make a genuine effort to come to a joint decision. Whereas orders which refer to sole parental responsibility, provide for that parent and only that parent to make long term decisions.

It is important to remember that parental responsibility is different to physical care of a child. A parent can have parental responsibility for a child without having the child in their physical care.

Often, orders will define the time that the child will live or spend time with each parent. When orders provide for the child to live with one parent then they will include orders about the times the child will spend time with the other parent.

There are also often spend time with orders about arrangements for the child to spend time with one parent or the other on special days that operate differently than the normal schedule. Typically, these relate to Christmas, Easter, birthdays and Mothers and Father’s Day.

Essentially, schools need to be aware of orders issued by the Court to ensure they do not breach any of the requirements.

Once schools are aware of what the orders state, school should make arrangements to comply. Schools need to be able to identify:

  1. Who to contact in emergency situations or if an incident has occurred involving the child.
  2. Who can attend school and pick up the child.
  3. Who can enrol the child at school and who is going to pay the school fees.
  4. Who can attend school events such as school concerts, plays or other volunteer or fundraising events; and
  5. Who can receive information such as reports or newsletters.

How Can We Help?

If your school is having difficulties interpreting court orders, it is always good to know your legal position as early as possible. Get in touch with our Family Law Team at Snedden Hall & Gallop on  02 6285 8000 or by email to discuss further.