With approximately 1 in 3 marriages ending in divorce, teachers and school principals regularly come into contact with separated or separating parents and their children.
Teachers can be confronted with difficult situations including disputes between parents regarding school enrolment, subject selection and arrangements for who collects the child from school.
Under the Family Law Act (Cth) 1975, if parents have equal shared parental responsibility for a child, they are both equally entitled to be involved in long term decisions regarding the education of a child. When parents disagree about these issues, schools and teachers can become unfairly involved in the dispute between the parents.
Schools and teachers should remain impartial at all times. There may be times when the school’s expert opinion may be necessary, for example in disputes about subject selection, but otherwise parents should be referred to external sources, such as their lawyers or a Family Relationship Centre to assist in resolving their disputes.
Schools should also ensure that all documentation concerning a child’s position, such as enrolment forms, are signed by both parents.
Parents are usually required to provide the school with copies of all Court Orders affecting their children, including parenting plans and Intervention Orders against the other parent.
Parents often ask whether they can attend school events, even if it is not their “time” with the child. Unless there is a court order stating otherwise, both parents are entitled to attend all school events. Schools should arrange separate parent teacher interview times if this is necessary (although many separating parents do not need to do this). Both parents are entitled to receive all information which is normally available to parents from the school.
If a parent arrives at the school and is hostile and threatening to staff, the school may be advised to call the police at first instance.