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13th September 2023

Jo Carr-West comments on schooling disagreements between UHNW families in Tatler

Jo Carr-West comments on schooling disagreements between UHNW families in Tatler

Jo’s comments were published in Tatler, 12 September 2023, and can be found here.

Why educational disagreements in UHNW families are more common than you think

When parents don’t see eye-to-eye on schooling

As children across the country head back to school for a new academic year, things can be particularly complicated for UHNW families.

When it comes to education, there can be a number of areas of conflict between families and for separated parents this can sometimes lead to disagreements when what is best in one’s parent’s eyes does not align with the other parent’s view.

Jo Carr-West, Partner at Hunters Law tells Tatler, ‘Schooling disagreements can arise in a wide range of circumstances in separated families. Often the issue will arise on a child’s transition from primary to secondary school, where parents have differing views on the educational environment in which their child will thrive for example, one parent may prefer a school that prioritises academic outcome, whereas the other may think a school which nurtures a range of talents best for the child,’ says West.

West continues: ‘Schooling disagreements may also reflect parents’ different cultural or religious backgrounds. A French parent may want their child to attend an international Lycée, or a religious parent may propose a faith school. Where the parental relationship is conflictual, the choice of school may be seen as a battle over the child’s cultural affinity.’

In separated families, the disagreements are obviously more polarised, says Alison Hayes, Partner at Levision Meltzer Pigott. ‘People become fixated upon reputations of schools and what this will add to their child. Parents sometimes fail to prioritise the holistic approach. Schooling is something which needs to suit a child as opposed to suiting the parents. Whilst these may seem to be juxtapositions suiting the child is of course the most important thing.’

Carolina Marin Pedreño, Partner at Dawson Cornwell notes that UHNW families often disagree over the idea of home-schooling, ‘Often one of the parents for the child want them to be home schooled as this allows the family the liberty of travelling internationally, particularly where they have multiple homes in different parts of the world.’

Of course, there are other issues that specialist education lawyers such as Ane Vernon, Partner at Payne Hicks Beach, deals with in relation to super-rich families too. She tells Tatler, ‘Many of my cases throughout the year centre around allegations of misconduct of students bullying, drug abuse or sexual misconduct and the subsequent disciplinary action taken by the school.’

She adds: ‘Increasingly I see allegations arising from the ubiquitous use of social media, both during school hours and off premises – this can be particularly complex when children are boarding. In the current climate schools are acutely concerned to clamp down swiftly on all kinds of inappropriate conduct. This can lead to an overzealous approach by the school’s management and occasionally an individual child is singled out and made an example of, which can be unfair. Once parents and students have been advised on their legal rights so they know where they stand, often a frank and constructive dialogue between the school and the family can avoid litigation and lead to a satisfactory resolution.’

When disputes do arise in relation to a child’s education, it’s important that parents understand their legal rights. ‘Each parent who has parental responsibility for the child legally needs to agree the main decision milestones for their child, and that includes schooling. A primary carer parent cannot just decide on a school place and exclude the views of the other,’ says Hilka Hollmann, Partner at Dawson Cornwell. Adding: ‘If there is disagreement, then unfortunately either arbitration or the court will need to be involved, to make a decision. It is open to a parent to make an application for a specific issue order, to permit their child to attend a specific school, or for a parent to make an application for a prohibited steps order, to prohibit a specific school attendance. However, it is always worth exploring more amicable or alternative resolutions because a court or arbitrator may decide something that neither parent really wanted, and court proceedings are stressful.’

Vernon agrees that involving the court is always a last resort, ‘If you end up in a position where you need the court’s assistance to determine which school your child goes to, you will need to make an application to the Family Court nearest to where your child lives. Once you have made your application, the Court will set various deadlines for next steps including you and your ex-partner filing witness statements setting out each of your cases on why your child should or should not attend a particular school.’

All the experts believe that ensuring you have legal support is beneficial when disagreements do rise. ‘I think it is always good to get at least a one off legal advice, to know where a parent stands and what their options are and also get an idea of how quickly a court would decide an application,’ says Hollmann. She adds: ‘Very often, a court decision can take many months, so if there is likely to be disagreement over schooling, it is good to plan ahead.’

Marin Pedreño advises, ‘Having a lawyer doesn’t automatically lead to conflict and litigation. For example, in this situation I would assist them in using an educational counsellor. They can inform the counsellor about their child, their personalities, hobbies and needs and ask for their advice on the different schools or educational methods that they disagree about.’

‘Parents can also try to reach consensus through processes such as family therapy and mediation, both of which can involve the children in the discussions if appropriate and agreed by both parents’, recommends Carr-West.

And don’t forget to talk to your children about the situation too, says Hayes. ‘Children have a really good feel about what they think would suit them.’

For more gold-standard guidance on family law, wealth management, property and tax and trust, visit the Tatler High Net Worth Address Book.