Can I be forced to pay school fees after divorce?

The average public school fee is over £15,000 for day pupils and £36,000 in respect of boarders. For parents who have decided to educate their children privately, affordability is an important long-term consideration. But what happens if you separate or divorce?

As part of a divorce financial settlement, the court has the power to make a school fees order. If parents are unmarried or the divorce settlement did not address the issue of school fees, the court can make an order under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989. This article discusses applications for such orders and whether they are capable of being enforced or varied.

What does a school fees order cover?

An order can cover the entirety of school fees and many extras, such as school uniform, trips, extra-curricular activities, and even boarding. It is important to remember that child maintenance in and of itself does not cover school fees unless a specific agreement has been reached between you to that effect.

What is an application under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989?

A separated unmarried parent, or a parent whose divorce settlement did not include an order for payment of school fees, can apply to the court for the fees to be met by the other parent. Such an application is more likely to be successful if the child attended the fee paying school before the couple separated, however each case is determined on its own facts with the court having wide discretion in their decision making powers.

The court considers things like the parties income and their financial commitments, together with the child’s needs and expectations. After taking these factors into account, the court makes a decision regarding payment of school fees.

How is a school fees order paid?

School fees can be paid by way of periodical payments, such as monthly or termly, or a lump sum order could be made to provide a fund for payment of future school fees. Payments may even be made directly by the paying parent to the school bursar. The kind of order that is appropriate depends on the circumstances of the case and will vary accordingly.


Can a school fees order be enforced, and can I vary the order?

If the other parent has a school fees order in place, it can be enforced via the court. However, if there has been a material change in the paying parent’s financial circumstances and they can no longer pay, they may be able to apply to the court to vary the school fees order. There must be a good reason for this, such as the loss of employment, or illness, for example.

A school fees order must be affordable, and the court will take into consideration the needs of the child, particularly if removal is likely to be detrimental to them.

Generally speaking, the court views public school education as a luxury, with housing and basic needs seen by judges as a much greater priority. Put simply, if the money isn’t there to support two households and pay public school fees, there is a good chance the children will have to leave private education.

Will the court make me pay school fees?

The lifestyle you led during the marriage tends to be commensurate with the income you have coming in. When you separate,  the same income must run two separate households, which may mean a change in the standard of living you previously enjoyed as a family. For some, private education becomes something which is no longer a priority over other, more pressing family expenses. And as stated above, the court will only make a school fees order if it believes the paying parent can afford it without compromising their own standard of living.

If you are having issues with your children and the other parent, and you feel you need legal advice, contact specialist family solicitor Maria Coster of Stowe Family Law. Maria has an excellent record in child law matters as well as being involved in a number of complex cases involving issues such as domestic violence, substance misuse, and parental alienation.

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