Children in school - how divorce could impact children's education

If you’re thinking of divorcing, you may have concerns over how it will impact on your children in the long term.

Back in February, we looked at the effect of divorce on younger children, and how it was potentially better for the children than their parents staying together in an acrimonious relationship. Now, a new report from researchers at the University of California Los Angeles goes further, suggesting that the effect of a divorce on a child’s education long after the divorce itself varies considerably.

In research results published in “Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences”, the surprising findings were that children in less advantaged families are more likely to experience divorce, but are less likely to have their educational achievements affected. In contrast, those from more affluent families are much more likely to be more affected.

According to Jennie Brand, director of the UCLA California Center for Population Research, and her co-researchers:

“Parental divorce lowers the educational attainment of children who have a low likelihood of their parents’ divorcing. For these children, divorce is an unexpected shock to an otherwise-privileged childhood. However, we find no impact of parents’ divorcing on the education of children who have a high likelihood of a divorce occurring. Disadvantaged children of high-risk marriages may anticipate or otherwise accommodate to the dissolution of their parents’ marriage.”


Unlikely or likely to divorce?

The researchers divided their research population into three groups:

  1. Unlikely to divorce
  2. Likely to divorce
  3. Neither likely nor unlikely

In the first group, children whose parents divorced were 15% more likely not to complete their college education. By contrast, those in the ‘likely to divorce’ group showed minimal impact on their educational achievement if their parents got divorced or not.


Children, divorce and education

The study sheds light on just how far-reaching the impact of a divorce can be in terms of academic achievement. However, school isn’t just about grades or exams. During a divorce, school can provide a stable and supportive environment for children, a place where routine and order exists when everything at home might be in turmoil.

It’s one of the reasons we always advise parents with children at private school to sort out the issue of who pays the school fees very early on in divorce proceedings. Moving school is a major upheaval in any child’s life, especially in the middle of an academic year. It also takes children away from their friends, social circle and sporting teams at a point where almost everything else in their lives is also changing, including (potentially) where they live.

The last thing any parent wants is having to pull a child out of private school simply because there isn’t any money made available to pay the fees.


Who pays private school fees in a divorce?

Part of any divorce financial settlement should include an agreement on who pays the school fees. However, if you can’t agree, you can apply to the court for a School Fees Order which covers both reduced fees and optional extras such as music tuition. A court can also order periodical payments for school fees as part of a Financial Remedy Order. It’s important to sort this early, as school fees payments are separate from child maintenance payments, but not from spousal maintenance.

For more details, and our suggestions on ways to protect school fee payments, see our article. Or call us to make an appointment with one of our Directors and discuss your particular circumstances.


State schools and divorce

If your child attends a local state (non fee-paying) school, it’s important to remember that if you move out of the school catchment area as a result of your divorce and your children live with you as their resident parent, your child will probably have to move schools. So, you’ll need to research local schools in the area to find the best one for your children. You can use the Ofsted website and the Department of Education website to read up on each school’s academic record, finances, number of pupils, etc.

Please remember that education is an important aspect of Parental Responsibility and you can’t just unilaterally make the decision to change a child’s school. We can put forward your proposals formally or alternatively, advise you on applying for a Specific Issue Order.


Ask the kids also

Remember, it’s your children who’ll be going to the school every day, not you! Make sure they visit several schools, and listen to their views as to where they will fit in and feel happiest. Look too for opportunities to continue with their favourite activities and sports out of school, to reduce the impact and maintain continuity.

You need to contact your shortlist of schools as soon as possible to check they are not oversubscribed, and inform the local authority too. You’ll need to apply at least six weeks before your child is due to start, and provide evidence if required of why that particular school would suit your child best. For more details on school admissions, see the Government website.


Non-resident parents and schooling

As the non-resident parent, you still have rights about your involvement in your child’s schooling, wherever it may be. According to Practical Law, parents have the following rights:

  • To attend a school's annual parents' meeting.
  • To express a preference when choosing a school.
  • To stand for election or vote as a parent governor.
  • To be notified of their right to appeal against a child's exclusion.
  • To receive information on the child's education.
  • To initiate or be involved in the procedure for obtaining a statement of special educational needs for the child.


Have concerns about the impact of divorce on your child’s education?

Call us to book an appointment to discuss your particular circumstances either as the resident or non-resident parent. You’ll meet with one of our Directors in person either at our discreet countryside offices in Swallowfield near Reading, or in our exclusive use office in central Reading, the choice is yours. For ex-pat parents currently living or working abroad, we also offer consultations via Skype.