Payment of school fees often becomes a highly contested issue between separating partners – more so if children attend a private school. Some couples are able to come to agreement about how they will continue paying school fees and associated expenses (uniforms, books and extracurricular activities) soon after they separate. This is often reflective of arrangements during the marriage and based on the ability of each of the parties to contribute.
After separation, reaching agreement about these matters proves more difficult. More often that not, the party with the higher income will have been primarily responsible for school fees until separation. If parties agree for this to continue, this can be formalised by way of binding child support agreement. This agreement is then registered with the Child Support Agency and is enforceable in case of any future disagreement.
In the event parties are unable to agree who is going to pay the fees, a realistic approach needs to be taken and parties need to firstly work out whether either of them can continue to meet the cost of fees, particularly private school fees. Parents will soon realise that after separation, costs of living are far greater when taking into account water, internet, rent and the like. Although it is not ideal, in some cases, parents need to consider whether it continues to be financially viable for children to continue in private education.
Where parties cannot resolve the dispute about school fees, parties are able to apply to the Child Support Agency to consider this as part of a “special circumstances assessment”. If successful, the payment of school fees can be incorporated into a re-assessment to enable both parents to contribute towards these costs. If your matter is already before the Court, in some circumstances, you may be able to apply to the Court for child support departure orders.
When making departure orders, the Court will need to consider if one or more grounds of departure have been established:
- whether it would be “just and equitable” to make the order; and
- whether it would be “otherwise proper” to make the order.