Children spend a large majority of their time at school and many milestones occur there. Naturally, both parents want involvement in this part of their child’s life. Schools can be placed in a difficult position when it comes to managing separating parents and understanding the implications parenting orders have on their responsibilities regarding children in their care.
Family law parenting orders are only legally binding on the parties to the order; this is generally the parents but it can sometimes include other family members such as grandparents. While schools may be the subject of some terms of the order, for example the school may be the location for changeover, they are not legally bound by the orders.
There are limited circumstances in which a school can be found to be in contravention of a parenting order as a ‘third party’:
– Where they intentionally prevent compliance by a person who is bound to comply; or
– By aiding or abetting a contravention by a person is bound to comply.
In practice, it is rare for a contravention application to be brought against a school. However, to avoid any complications schools should remain aware of the family situation of all students because obligations can vary depending on the circumstances.
Parents have separated with no family law orders
Where parents of a child have separated and there are no family law orders in place there is a presumption that each parent has ‘parental responsibility’. This means both parents have responsibility for long term decisions regarding their child’s education. Day-to-day decisions can be made by the parent with whom the child is residing, for example, what the child eats for lunch and whether they should stay back at after school care.
Parents have a ‘Parenting Plan’
Parenting plans are signed agreements between the parents dealing with various aspects of co-parenting. Parenting plans are not court orders. They are often very useful and successful tools for parents where there is minimal conflict. They are used when parents are able to come to an agreement about parenting and wish to have a formal record of that agreement. If one parent breaches a parenting plan a party cannot have the agreement enforced by a court.
Where there is a parenting order in place schools cannot be held liable for any contravention. However, it may be useful to have a record of who to contact in various circumstances
There is a ‘Parenting Order’
Parenting orders made by the court are binding. Schools are not responsible for enforcing family law orders but it is important that they retain a copy of any relevant parenting orders so that they avoid facilitating a breach.
It can be difficult for schools where disputes are ongoing because there can be some changes in circumstances. To avoid any confusion schools should always be provided with an up to date copy of interim parenting orders.
Child Safety & the Intervention Order System
The family violence intervention order system and the family law system are related but separate and can sometimes be used against each other by separating parents. In some cases children may be ‘affected family members’ protected by an intervention order (IVO) against one of their parents; this can have the effect of preventing contact between that parent and the child.
– In cases where there is only an intervention and no family law orders, the intervention order should be complied with as much as possible. Breach of an intervention is a criminal offence and can incur penalties of fines and/or imprisonment.
– If there is a family law order and an intervention order it is very important that they are both read carefully; often the IVO will contain an exception that allows for the operation of family law orders. This means that if you have current, sealed copies of a family law order that permits contact and an intervention order that prevents contact but which contains an exception for family law orders then the family law orders will prevail.
Any circumstances involving family violence are extremely difficult to navigate and care should be taken to ensure that any and all orders are read carefully.
Ultimately it is not the role of the school to mediate or enforce parenting orders. However, schools should have a record of any parenting arrangements in relation to its students to avoid facilitating a breach of a parenting order.