Relocating with children following family breakdown and the impact of COVID-19 and Brexit
People’s experiences of lockdown have been greatly varied. Where so many of us commuted into London to work in an office 5 days per week, the directive to work from home has enabled people to set up their own office, wherever there is a power source and access to Wi-Fi. The need to be within commuting distance of the office has all but disappeared and many families will be considering whether remaining in or around London is truly necessary. As highlighted in our first blog of this Relocation series some families have used lockdown as an opportunity to leave London and escape to the countryside or abroad to enjoy a slower pace of life. One of the positives of lockdown has been the opportunity to pause and draw breath which has left many of us wondering what we were doing running around, chasing our tails with over-committed diaries, long working hours (and commutes) and precious family time often coming last on a long list of now redundant priorities.
Although remote working looks like it is here to stay for the foreseeable future, many families had to return to London during the Autumn term last year for their children’s education. It is unsurprising that, in the midst of stressful school applications, hugely over-subscribed waiting lists (many of London’s top public schools require registration on birth) and 11+ exams looming, families are considering a permanent move out of London, whether abroad or away from the city to the countryside and along with this, a new school for their children.
Selecting a school for your child is undoubtedly one of the most important decisions you will make for them. A school has the ability to shape your child’s development and influence their future and finding the right ‘fit’ for your child is of huge importance. Decisions of this nature concerning your child need to be made jointly and in agreement with all persons who hold parental responsibility for them. This is usually the child’s parents, but can extend to others involved in their care and if you have any doubt about who may have parental responsibility you should take legal advice on this. Education can be a thorny topic and not everyone’s views align on what is the best setting for a child’s development and learning. Some parents will favour schools with a strict academic policy and top exam results, whereas others will prefer a more rounded, pastoral education which focuses on a child’s strengths whether they are academic or more practical or creative. There is no one right answer and every child will have different needs.
If you are thinking about a new school for your child, particularly where you are separated from the child’s other parent, below are some tips on how best to approach this issue:
There is a wealth of information online and most schools have thorough and comprehensive websites where you can do your initial desktop research as well as online general guides like the Good Schools guide.
Engage with your child’s other parent as soon as possible to let them know this is something you are seriously considering and would like to discuss and hopefully agree with them.
When you make contact with a potential school either to make enquiries, or arrange a visit, include your child’s other parent in those discussions and invite them to view the school with you. Even if they don’t necessarily agree to your child attending the school, they should at least take the time to consider it as an option including attending the school for an open day or a (virtual) tour. You should do likewise with any school that is proposed to you.
Ensure that your child’s other parent is copied into all and any communications with the school. If communications are between you and the school only, ensure a neutral and non-confrontational tone is adopted. Aside from the fact that school admissions staff will be reluctant to be drawn into family disputes, your correspondence with the school may well be requested and shown to a future arbitrator or a judge should you be unable to reach an agreement on the issue of schooling.
If you once thought that a school would be perfect for your child and you have invested time and emotional capital in trying to convince your child’s other parent of this, only to discover it’s not ‘the one’, then don’t be afraid to back down. People change their minds and you must do what you believe is best for your child.
Hopefully you and your child’s other parent will be able to agree on schooling, however, should this not be possible, you will want to make sure that you have sufficient time before your preferred start date to reach an agreement. This can hopefully be done through direct discussion or with the assistance of a mediator. If that is not possible then you may need to engage in arbitration or make an application to court for a judge to determine the issue.
If you have any questions about the issues raised in this or other blogs in this series, please contact a member of our family and divorce team. We have a longstanding reputation in advising parents who wish to take their child abroad or elsewhere in the UK to live and relocate after separation or divorce - and equally in advising parents who want to prevent such a move.
See also our “Moving Abroad with Children - Frequently Asked Questions” for further information and you can follow our blog series on relocation for separation parents here.
Olivia is an Associate in the Family Team. She qualified into the department following completion of her training contract in September 2015. Olivia also did seats in Corporate & Commercial, Dispute Resolution and Criminal Litigation during her training contract.
Olivia works on a wide range of private family matters, including:
complex financial disputes;
matters relating to children, including international relocation and surrogacy; and
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