The most complex challenge separated or divorced couples will deal with relates to issues of their child/children. This is because, regardless of the break in the relationship of the parents, both parents have "equal and shared parental responsibility" in the upbringing of the child. The only exception comes when one parent is denied this right because of pre-existing abuse or violence that puts the other parent and child in danger. This article sheds some light on implications of shared parental responsibility by law, and how to navigate education matters.
1. What are major long-term decisions?
When discussing family law and where shared responsibility exists, major decisions are those related to current and future education of the child, such as what schools to enrol in, what subjects to pursue and serious behavioural issues (expulsions, suspensions, etc.). If one parent makes a one-sided decision to transfer the child from their current school to another without the other's knowledge, he/she risks losing their rights if the other parent contests the decision.
For practicality, this means that spouses must arrange to live nearby, so that the child is not subjected to excessive strain in moving from one parent's house to the other's, especially during the school period. Some exceptions apply, of course, and the degree of each parent's involvement will be according to the custody agreement.
2. Child enrolment in new schools
In shared responsibility, both parents should agree to the decision to move a child from one school to another. While the school will not decline to enrol a child because both parents' signatures lack on the enrolment form, if you unilaterally enrol a child in a school you should appreciate that only you will be responsible for the child's welfare according to the school. This means that you will solely be liable for payment of fees, dealing with indiscipline and all other matters requiring parental input.
If the other parent contests such a unilateral decision, your bargaining position will suffer greatly, and your spouse may be given greater responsibility and custody over the child. The court interprets that you're not willing to facilitate the child's relationship with the other spouse without justifiable cause.
Where you cannot agree about enrolment, the court may come in to arbitrate and make a decision based on your parenting arrangement and the best interests of the child.
3. School information access
The parent with "resident rights" (where the child lives most of the time) will receive information from the school and should pass them on to the other parent. However, during enrolment, you can inform the school that you're separated and request to both be contacted when there's a problem, and reports to be sent to you both. This is especially needful if the communication channels between you and your spouse have deteriorated. You may have to pay an extra fee for duplication of school information.