Who covers school fees when parents are separated?

Emma Catterall, HHG Legal Solicitor, Family Law, Commercial Law and Wills & Estates
Emma Catterall, HHG Legal Solicitor, Family Law, Commercial Law and Wills & Estates

WITH the upcoming return to school, many separated parents remain unsure of who is responsible for payment of school fees.

This can become a particularly contentious issue when children attend private schools, where fees are typically significantly higher than those of public schools.

Here are the top three things you need to know if choosing to split school fees as a separated parent:

1.       Parties may choose to have child support assessed and collected by the Department of Human Services. Although the amount collected by the department is intended to cover all of the necessary costs of raising a child, this amount is generally calculated assuming the child will obtain a public education. This can result in a shortfall for the parent receiving child support, if the paying parent expects them to meet all private school costs.

2.       However, if there was a previous agreement to educate the children at a private school, the department may find the paying parent liable to pay additional child support to address higher school fees. This uncertainty is inherent in the current department system. The paying parent could choose to make additional payments to cover the higher costs associated with private education, although there is no obligation for them to do so.

3.       Alternatively, separating parents may decide to enter into a Binding Child Support Agreement, which is a private agreement drafted by a solicitor. These agreements can be drafted to clearly set out the responsibility of each parent with respect to all expenses associated with the children, including school fees. These documents are binding, and both parties must receive independent legal advice on the effect of the agreement prior to it being entered into.

If separating parents want a clear arrangement with respect to payment of school fees it is important that this is discussed at the time of separation, and an agreement is entered into that is acceptable to them both.

Emma Catterall, HHG Legal Solicitor, Family Law, Commercial Law and Wills & Estates