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School fees remain a major concern for separating and divorcing parents. In this new article for summer 2021, Director Rita Gupta assesses the impact of the pandemic on both the cost of school fees and the availability of places for new students.

Private schools provide more than just a first-class education. During a separation and subsequent divorce, it is a great help if your children remain in a supportive and consistent school environment. Moving to a new school, private or state, will inevitably involve disruption, distress and loss of social contacts at a time when so much else is changing in their lives too. That’s why many parents prioritise the payment of school fees in their financial settlements.

Post-pandemic, there seems to be a paradox emerging for parents.

  • On the one hand, they are eager to keep children in public schools but have real concerns over the continuing costs amidst economic uncertainty.
  • On the other hand, there has been a fall in some parts of the UK in student numbers, causing concern about the long-term viability of the schools themselves.

Finally, there is a strong sense of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. If parents withdraw children from school now and wish to return them to private education once their financial position is more secure, there may not be places available.

Nothing illustrates this better than two articles, one in the Financial Times, one in The Telegraph.

 

Expected surge in demand

According to the Financial Times, independent schools expect a surge in pupil numbers as parents act on concerns about the loss of education during the pandemic.

This view is backed by the findings of a research review by Ofqual:

“By the summer of 2020, (northern hemisphere) when schools in many countries break for holidays, globally, the average student had missed almost 50 school days – or a quarter of a school year. School closures in the second quarter of 2020 put students typically 2 to 3 months behind the academic milestones their cohorts would be expected to reach. As anticipated, losses were frequently greater in mathematics (3 months) than in reading (one-and-a-half months).”

Demand may also be driven by working parents having accrued more savings than in previous years, due to lockdown.

 

Expected downturn in demand

An article in The Telegraph states that there has been a major decline in pupil numbers at UK private school.

“Private schools have seen the biggest drop in pupil numbers for five years, as the pandemic has led to families “tightening their purse strings”. A drop of 1.3 per cent … represents the biggest year-on-year decline since 2016.”

The article also raises concerns over the viability of small private schools that experience major reductions in student numbers.

However, Melanie Sanderson, managing editor of the Good Schools Guide, also points out that the fall in student numbers is regional.

"In London and the South East, I think the reverse is actually true. I know that schools within the M25, and really good schools in the home counties are not seeing a drop in their number of registrations.”

So, for parents with children either attending or planning to attend public school in our area around Reading and the Home Counties, it is a balancing act between affordability and accessibility.

 

Concerned about school fees?

To discuss your situation with one of our family law Directors., contact us to book your reduced fee 1 hour consultation. We have helped many separating parents secure private school fees funding agreements and ensure their children’s education continues after they divorce.

 

School fees increases for 2021

According to the Independent Schools Council , fees for UK private schools increased on average by 1.1 per cent year on year in 2021. This is compared with 4.1 per cent in 2020. This brings the average fee for UK independent schools to £15,191 a year for day pupils and £36,000 for boarders.

However, this is an average cost with top schools and college fees considerably higher. For example, Brighton College, described as the School of the Decade by the Sunday Times in 2020, levies fees of over £50,000 per year. Eleven other top schools, including Cheltenham Ladies College, Winchester College, Harrow, Eton, and Charterhouse, all cost over £40,000 a year.

 

More means-tested fee assistance

Fortunately for hard-pressed parents, the amount of means-tested fee assistance has also increased. According to Independent Education Today:

“£1.1bn was provided in fee assistance in 2020; more than £900m directly from schools and £440m on a means-tested basis … Pupils receiving means-tested fee assistance received on average £9,919 per annum, an increase of 5.2% compared with 2019.”

 

Raising fees a “last resort”

Private schools are acutely aware of the issue of fees not rising beyond reach. As David Woodgate, chief executive of the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association (ISBA) explained:

“I think (there is now) a huge awareness that putting fees up by anything above inflation is probably the last resort. It’s about putting fee levels under the microscope and realising schools can’t automatically pass on financial shocks to parents by way of increased fees.”

 

Who pays the school fees after we divorce?

This is a question we get asked all the time, and the answer is - it depends. As we say in our popular article on How to Protect School Fees we say:

“In the best-case scenario, payment of school fees is included in your divorce financial agreement. In a more contentious environment, you may need to go to court for a School Fees Order, which can cover school fees plus extras such as music lessons, uniforms, school trips, etc.”

 

More help on paying school fees

If you as co-parents are concerned about paying school fees, help is at hand. Our article on paying school fees from summer 2020 offers five practical tips if paying for school fees is becoming problematic for you and/or your ex.

 

Concerned about keeping children at private school after divorce?

Call us to arrange your one-hour reduced fee consultation on payment of school fees both during and after separation. Continuity is key, so acting now rather than when the autumn fees invoice arrives will save you and your children stress and worry over the summer holidays.

LGFL Director Anne Leiper examines the implications of COVID-19 on the payment and future affordability of UK school fees.

For many separating and divorced parents, one of the biggest concerns is how to pay the school fees - and who covers the cost. The COVID crisis has inevitably added to this concern, as one of more parents may have lost their main source of income, or have taken a cut in income to protect their own business. As the nation looks to an uncertain economic future, the stress of financial uncertainty may lead to parents reassessing the viability of private education.

 

Protecting school fees in divorce

In our popular article on how to protect school fees , we highlighted various ways to ensure fees are paid through and beyond the divorce process. In the best-case scenario, payment of school fees is included in your divorce financial agreement. In a more contentious environment, you may need to go to court for a School Fees Order, which can cover school fees plus extras such as music lessons, uniforms, school trips, etc.

However, it’s important that a court will not view private school fees as a “necessity”. Now more than ever, judges are likely to consider one party’s reluctance in committing to private school fees, particularly if only one parent is responsible for the fees.

 

Summer school fee discounts during closure

The issue now, of course, is that children are currently not actually at school, yet private schools want the summer term fees paid. As a parent, you will have a contract with your private school, and that contract usually includes the requirement for payment of school fees by a particular date.

Almost all schools will be providing extensive online teaching and resources to ensure continuity in your child’s education, and may have done so since Easter. So there is educational activity that needs to be paid for, but not other daily costs such as catering.

As a result, many private schools have already offered a substantial reduction on summer term fees, ranging between 10% and 50%. Others have chosen not to. Some have gone for a range of options, including deferred payments, or payments in installments. Some schools are asking parents who can afford to pay the full fees to do so, and the school will use any additional income to establish a hardship fund. Schools with associated charities may also be able to help pay fees in cases of genuine need.

When can children go back to school?

On Monday 11 May, the government published a phased recovery strategy. Step Two includes a phased reopening of school from June 1 for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 children in England. (In Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, it seems unlikely that schools will reopen before September.) This is to allow these age groups to have “maximum time with their teachers” before the summer holidays.

For older children:

“Secondary schools and further education colleges should also prepare to begin some face to face contact with Year 10 and 12 pupils who have key exams next year, in support of their continued remote, home learning. The Government’s ambition is for all primary school children to return to school before the summer for a month if feasible, though this will be kept under review.”

In England, class sizes will be reduced to just 15 pupils and each class will stay together for the entire school day. Schools will be expected to initiate one way systems for corridors, stagger break and lunch times, and different times for starting and finishing the school day. The UK government has stated that no parents will be fined if they choose not to return their child to school before the summer holidays.

 

Will all schools reopen?

Reports suggest that some smaller private schools face the threat of closure if they do not receive their regular schools fees. They will have furloughed staff to pay and buildings and facilities to maintain. Schools may have had to invest heavily in new technologies and equipment for teachers, and spend money rapidly in order to achieve online education in a matter of days rather than weeks or months.

As an article in The Telegraph says:

“Schools are trying to strike a balance between keeping parents onside and keeping the schools afloat. Some are unlikely to offer any discount on fees at all, while others may offer refunds on services they are no longer providing such as meals or coaches. … In all cases the core cost of tuition is highly unlikely to be refunded, as most schools are teaching pupils via online classes.”

Summer school fees: beyond the budget

So, what should you do if paying for school fees is becoming problematic for you and/or your ex?

1. Contact the school for a discount

You may be surprised at the level of help they are willing to offer. According to the Financial Times:

“Many private schools, including richer institutions with endowments and freehold property such as Eton, are offering discounts of 30 per cent or more, as well as financial aid, extended credit and future fee freezes.”

This may push school fees back into your ‘affordable’ range, and you may not need to take action.

If your school has not offered a discount, contact the school and ask for one. It could be as simple as that. If not, contact other parents and get together; parental pressure on the owners of Alpha Plus Group schools resulted in a 20% discount.

2. Ask about bursaries and deferred payments

Many of our clients have successfully applied for bursaries, fee postponements and staged payments whilst they are going through a divorce. Schools are therefore well accustomed to such requests, and opening that dialogue early can help avoid panic calls later.

As Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council says:

“Schools absolutely understand why parents are asking questions about fees, and the difficulty we are all experiencing adjusting to the current situation, balancing work, online education and wellbeing.”

For more information, see this Good School Guide article on scholarships and bursaries.

3. Check exactly how the school fees are currently paid

Any financial settlement or school fees order that includes school fees will include details of exactly how they are to be paid. The liability to pay for school fees is normally in joint names, so there is joint liability for the full amount of any outstanding fees. It’s important to check because if your ex is paying all or part, and they default or go over their credit card limit, you will be liable for all of the fees. Equally, you don’t want your child to lose their place at school through not knowing the financial position of your ex or that fees are not being paid.

4. Contact your ex

This may be difficult, but it is important you know how they are coping and how they view future financial commitments. If you are actively co-parenting, this may be relatively straightforward. If communications are difficult, we can draft a formal letter if required. Avoiding the subject is unlikely to be beneficial.

5. Check your Child Maintenance Service assessment

It’s important to remember that child maintenance is separate to payment of school fees. If, however, you use some of your child maintenance money to pay school fees yourself, any missed payments or reductions will affect you.

The CMS calculate the amount of child maintenance payable using uses a person’s taxable gross annual income. If the assessment was not completed with full financial disclosure, CMS applies a default rate, and you may not be receiving the correct amount.

Similarly there may not have been provision in your old financial order for annual disclosure of a P60, something we always advocate. So, you may be receiving child maintenance on a lesser, outdated salary. Do remember that sometimes a reassessment can actually lead to the payment going down, so it is important to take proper advice in order to make a measured decision.

 

Social distancing in private schools

Looking forward to the challenges of on-going social distancing, private schools may be in a better position to open early due to their smaller class sizes, and to use sports halls and other facilities as classrooms to maintain proper social distancing.

However, education leaders suggest it will not be a case of “schooling as usual”. As Scotland's education secretary, John Swinney told the BBC:

"There are a range of options that could be pursued around different groupings of pupils that could return to school for a limited period of the normal educational week in schools. But what I'm absolutely certain about is the idea that we could in some stage in the near future bring the entire school population back to schools is inconceivable. We are in discussion with our partners from associations to work out how best we can plan for the presumption of formal schooling.”

 

Act now on summer school fees invoices

So, if you haven’t already done so, now is the time to act:

  • Call your school
  • Ask about discounts
  • Request staggered or postponed payments

 

Concerned that your ex may not pay the school fees?

Call us for professional advice. There are ways to impose Orders through the courts, but they are not currently a priority for the already overstretched court system. As experienced family lawyers, we have decades of experience in helping separated parents resolve issues without the need for court, including collaborative law and mediation and child-centred correspondence to help you resolve the issue.

Contact us to book a 1 hour online consultation, including 30 minutes free. (For qualifying clients, T&Cs apply).

UK flag and EU flag on a pole opposite each other

The recent uproar over the status of the children of Windrush immigrants has highlighted how changes in Government policies can have a major impact of unsuspecting families. Brexit will inevitably involve new legislation to replace existing EU agreements on cross-border marriages, divorce and child abduction, for example. Director Anne Leiper looks at the possible implications of Brexit on international family law.

One of the most frustrating aspect of Brexit is the uncertainty. We still do not know how much of EU family law will become enshrined in UK law, or if some will be removed from the statute books. Historically, the freedom of movement afforded by membership of the EU has been governed by EU-wide regulations. This could all change post-Brexit.

A way forward?

A joint paper issued last October by the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA), International Academy of Family Lawyers (IAFL) and Resolution, considers the options. It also addresses the issue of the transition period “To ensure that families are not left in legal limbo as a result of Brexit.”

In the eyes of the report’s authors, the UK has three options in terms of the current family law provisions.

  1. We can adopt the EU provisions wholesale into our own UK legislation and continue as we do now with reciprocal arrangement.
  2. We could adopt the provisions as above BUT not keep reciprocal arrangements.
  3. We could negotiate a new agreement with the EU.

At this stage, we simply don’t know which option the Government will go for, or whether we have a hard exit with no agreement at all.

 

Option 1 offers several benefits including maintaining ‘harmonised rules’ and cooperation. The UK would still remain subject to the CJEU (Court of Justice of the European Union), but the report considers this a good thing as it provides “A central arbiter of disputes about interpretation of the provisions… so that there is consistency across the EU."

Option 2 is almost a contradiction in terms as according to the report, “Many of the EU family law provisions require reciprocity.” In other words, we’d be bound by EU regulations, but the EU countries would not be obliged to reciprocate.

Option 3 would, in the words of the report, “Take a very long time to consider, negotiate and put into place alternative arrangements and that will not be achievable by 2019.”

 

So, option 1 is the report’s recommended course of action both in the short and long term.

Family law in the UK and the EU

Family law is not the same across the EU; each country has their own laws and legal principles governing issues such as the reasons you can divorce someone, maintenance support, child arrangements and protection from domestic violence and emotional abuse.

In addition, various UK instruments impact on UK law, especially Council Regulation No. 2201/2003, known to us family lawyers as ‘Brussels II Revised’ or ‘Brussels IIa’. This covers jurisdiction over divorce and parental responsibility cases, both in private and public law.

Now the technical part (do bear with us).

In the UK, we ’apply the provisions’ of the EU regulations, which means we work to them but don’t need them written into UK law. Brexit could change that too. If we want to continue applying EU provisions, we could need to write them into our own laws, and quickly. Otherwise, Brexit changes could affect a huge number of families, as according to the European Commission:

“Cross-border disputes on family matters have increased in the EU due to the rising number of international families, which is now estimated at 16 million.”

 

Divorce and Brexit

According to the European Commission, there are 140,000 cases of international divorce in the EU. If you marry a non-UK EU national, and subsequently decide to get divorced, which national jurisdiction you get divorced in can make a considerable difference to the outcome.

Under current EU instruments, the court where divorce proceeding are first issued has jurisdiction. There is also a mechanism to ensure that, even if divorce petitions are issued in two different countries, the first petition served defines the jurisdiction. After Brexit, this may not be the case.

As international divorce lawyers, we are well aware of the complications of dual jurisdiction cases and the care needed to negotiate the interests under different laws to our own. At present, our membership of the EU ensures that where the case is heard is in the child’s best interests and that in maintenance case, the weaker party’s interests are protected, for example.

 

Residency, leave to remain and the family

Until the status of EU nationals living in the UK is properly established, there will inevitably be uncertainty over the status both of parents and children where one spouse or partner is not a UK national. This in turn might affect where children can live after a divorce, and with which parent.

 

Removal of children

In the case of where a parent removes a child from the UK, or keeps them here against the wishes of the other parent, EU law states that the case is urgent and should be dealt with rapidly (within 6 weeks). Again, this may not be the case post-Brexit.

 

What next?

It’s very easy to succumb to the ‘panic headlines’ of the media over Brexit, but even if these are exaggerated, Brexit will affect EU cross-border and international divorces. How much remains to be seen.

In the meantime, we will continue to monitor how Brexit may affect family law, and continue to keep abreast of all new developments, to deliver the best service to the people who really matter in all this - you, your family and your children.

For more information, see our International law page, or book a free 30-minute consultation to discuss your situation. We offer in person meetings in the UK, and via Skype and telephone for overseas clients.

Words on scrabble board about schooling

Are you concerned about how to pay schools fees after separation or divorce? You are not alone. Director Rita Gupta offers some advice on an issue that concerns many of our clients – and their children.

School fees can be a major concern when you and your spouse/partner decide to go your separate ways. As a parent, you want to keep your children in a stable and supportive school environment during a turbulent time in their lives. You’ll probably want to spare them the disruption, distress and loss of social contacts that moving to a new school may involve. For many clients, their own social circle can revolve around the school, so this can lead to a further loss and concerns over social embarrassment.

In our May 2018 update to our original 2017 blog, we’ve included details on the various Court Orders that can be put in places to provide for payment of school fees. For more detail, please don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss your situation during a free 30-minute consultation.

 

School Fees Orders

In an ideal world, if you are divorcing, you and your ex-spouse should agree on who pays the schools fees as part of your divorce financial settlement, and without the need to go to court.

However, if you fail to agree who will pay the school fees after divorce, you can apply to the Court for a School Fees Order. This is usually creating by both parties agreeing who pays what, and then embodying that agreement into a formal order. The order can cover the entire school fees plus extras such as music lessons, uniforms, school trips, etc.

The Court can also order periodical payments for school fees as part of a Financial Remedy Order (formerly a ‘Consent Order’), which lays out who makes the payments and how often.

If no agreement can be reached, the Court can be asked to sort out school fees payment through a Specific Issue Order. One of the conditions of such an Order is that ex-spouse looking for a contribution towards school fees must be able to show that moving schools would have an adverse impact on the child or children involved, i.e. the Welfare principle applies.

If any Order regarding school fees is already in place, you’ll need to apply to the Court to vary the Order if your circumstances change, and you’re now struggling with making payments.

School fees and child maintenance

It’s important to remember that the obligation for assigning funds for school fees payment is separate from child maintenance payments. The Child Maintenance Service cannot order a parent to pay school fees. If you or your ex-spouse is struggling to pay both school fees and child maintenance, maintenance will always take priority. So, a Court would not rule for any reduction in child maintenance just because you also pay the school fees.

 

School fees and spousal maintenance

However, school fees are not separate from spousal maintenance. In a divorce case in 2015 where the ex-husband earned £195k per year and the ex-wife earned £18k (3), the High Court heard that the husband no longer wanted to pay all of one child’s fees and 25% of the second. The High Court ruled that:

“Both parties want their children to attend private school and both have to make sacrifices as a result.”

So, the wife has her spousal maintenance ended, but the husband paid all the school fees for both children.

 

Seven ways to protect school fee payments

You will need to act quickly to ensure school fees payments issues are resolved in good time for the start of a new term, and allow for the inevitable time taken for Courts to make any relevant Orders required.

1. Clarify your current position

Make sure you understand exactly:

  • who currently pays the school fees
  • when they are paid
  • how they are paid

For example, fees may be paid from a joint account or credit card, which you may not have access to after separation. Equally, some couples may opt for their company to pay school fees, which involves establishing your role within that company (if any) and entitlement for that payment method to continue. (See our article “Divorce doesn’t need to be taxing” for more info on this.)

 

2. Settle your financial settlement

As part of your divorce, you and your ex-spouse will need to create and agree an overall financial settlement between you. This will involve full and accurate disclosure of all finances, including payment of school fees. You should always consider negotiating the school fees as part of your long-term overall financial settlement. Professional advice is important to secure the best financial outcome for you and your family.

 

3. Inform your school

The liability to pay for school fees is normally in joint names, so there is joint liability for the full amount of any outstanding fees. Your school needs to be informed of changes that might affect the method of payment and your ability to pay. Informing a school early enables them to support your child/children and understand their circumstances, without the need for children to explain the situation themselves. Arrange a meeting with the bursar to discuss your situation.

 

4. Investigate bursaries

If you are concerned that you may not be able to continue to pay fees at the current level or frequency, call your school bursar and explain your position. Ask about the criteria and process for applying for bursaries; the availability and requirements vary considerably from school to school. Try to agree a postponement of payment or staged payment schemes to help you whilst a financial settlement is reached for your divorce.

 

5. Time moving schools and giving notice

If you do decide to move your children from one school to another, there will usually be a minimum of one term’s notice from their current school that will have to be funded. Even giving notice in the middle of the summer term is no guarantee that you would not be liable for next autumn’s term fees. Make sure any such ‘overlap’ of fees between the previous and new schools is accounted for in the financial settlement.

 

6. Ensure a CMS assessment has been completed

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) uses a person’s taxable gross annual income as a basis to work out the weekly child maintenance amount that person should pay. It is important that this assessment gives the full financial picture, otherwise the CMS applies a default rate which may not be the right amount. Do bear in mind that child maintenance is separate to school fees. You may not be receiving the correct amount.

 

7. Consider a maintenance pending suit application

Even the most amicable of divorce proceedings takes time to complete, and the gap between your financial separation and receipt of the first financial settlement payment can be considerable. If the other parent stops making payments, then you may need to consider issuing a maintenance pending suit or an interim maintenance application. This will assist as a means of obtaining money from your spouse to pay any pending school fees. At LGFL, we’d be happy to advise you fully on these solutions.

 

And finally…

You should be aware that courts see private school fees as a luxury. Housing and basic needs are a much greater priority for most judges, who can take a pragmatic view to the situation. Quite simply, if the money isn’t there to support two households and private school fees, there is a strong chance that a child will have to move out of private education. This is why specialist advice is necessary.

 

Need help with agreeing who pays the school fees?

Call us here at LGFL. We have helped hundreds of parents successfully secure school fees for their children, and ensure continuity in their education, social network and activities through divorce and beyond. Rest assured, we can help you too.