School fees in divorce settlements: luxury or necessity?

Children at school desks
Who should pay the school fees after divorce is one of the most emotive and contentious issues amongst our clients when they are considering divorce. LGFL Director Anne Leiper explains why.


Private school fees are not cheap. The average day school now costs around £13,000 a year rising to over £30,000 for boarding schools. In addition, almost all university fees are at least £9,000 plus living costs.


That’s a substantial amount of money for one partner to find on their own, whichever side of the divorce settlement fence they are on. Add in the complication that courts tend to view school fees as a luxury, not a necessity, and it become a matter of major concern.


School fees; can money buy happiness?

Amid all of the financial questions, I see a much more fundamental concern: are your children happy at their private school? Chances are, that familiar school environment is the one element of stability in their lives that remains constant during a divorce, as everything else shifts around them. They may not know who they are going to live with, where they are going to live, for how many days a week, or even if they might see one parent regularly at all.


However, they do know that they return to their familiar school environment five days a week, regardless. In a period of rapid change, school is a comforting constant where there are friends to talk to, teachers to turn to, and an understanding community that can support them.


Jacqui Bennett, a divorcee interviewed for a Daily Mail article, summed up why she downsized her home and car rather than move her daughter Jessica from her £20k a year private school.


“There’s absolutely no element of me keeping Jessica at the school to try to save face. I do it because Jessica … benefits hugely from the smaller class sizes. She’s happy there with a lovely group of friends and has had enough upheaval since her father and I separated … The teachers and parents know our situation and they’ve all been very supportive.”


Private schools: stability, not luxury

If private school fees are treated as a luxury, and not provided for in a financial settlement, the biggest impact will be on the children, not the parents. Without money to pay fees, children may have to leave the nurturing and close-knit private school community and be thrust into a public school system that is unfamiliar and probably intimidating. It’s a sad fact that, en masse, school children are not always the kindest of souls. Whilst some children may make new arrivals welcome, others may not be so generous, especially if they are seen as ‘different’ or ‘posh’.


So, just at the time when children feel at their most vulnerable, when their familiar family unit is splitting, they may also have to cope with making new friends, changing subjects and curriculums, and fitting into a whole new community, all at once.


Divorce: putting children first

The welfare of children in divorce proceedings is something we at LGFL feel passionate about. We always take into consideration the needs of the children, not just in terms of financial provision, but also in terms of emotional welfare. Divorce settlements must work for all the family, not just one party.


So, if you’re considering divorce but are concerned about school fees provision, call me for a 30-minute, no obligation appointment. We can talk through your options and suggest a way forward that helps keep children in the educational environment they need.