Family Court orders: How do they affect a school? – Part 2: Implications on schools

This is the second article in a two-part series regarding the impact of Family Court orders in schools.  In this article, William Kelly, School Governance Reporter, writes about how the administration of family orders impacts upon the operation of schools and what actions schools may need to take in certain situations.

Part 1 of this series discussed how the Family Court of Australia (Family Court) and Federal Circuit Court of Australia (FCC) make orders in Family Law situations and the requirements that these Courts must consider when creating such orders.  This article discusses how these orders may apply to schools and the effect on schools as to the operation of these orders.

Family Court or FCC orders have wide reaching consequences for not only the parents, but depending on what the orders state, grandparents or other family members and possibly even schools.  Schools need to be aware of the importance of these orders as they dictate the parenting arrangements for the child and even possibly outline any obligations the school may have to uphold to facilitate the practical application of the orders.

Essentially, schools need to be aware of these Court orders issued by the Family Court and FCC to ensure the safety of the child and to ensure that they do not breach any of the requirements stipulated in an order.

How do Family Court orders affect schools?

We have listed some key areas below.

Duty of care considerations: a school’s paramount interest is to ensure the student is not harmed whilst the school has control over the child.  Having a sealed copy of orders on file or any other document detailing parenting arrangements should help schools determine who has care of the child at certain times and which parent is going to collect the child at the end of the school day. Schools should also be aware of privacy issues regarding the handling of Court orders.

Handover arrangements: parenting orders may stipulate who has parental responsibility over a certain period of time. A school is a common place where a child may be handed over from one parent to another.  It is common practice, in Family Law situations, for parenting orders to state when a parent may have the child from the end of one school day until the start of school on another day.  For example, a Court order may state: the father has responsibility for the child from the end of school Friday until school commences on the following Monday.  The order may go on further to state: the mother has responsibility for the child from end of school Monday until the commencement of school Friday. Schools should be aware of the arrangements between parents and make sure they know all relevant custodial details to ensure that the child remains safe and they know which parent is picking up the child.

Knowing who has responsibility for the child:  some Court orders may stipulate who has responsibility for the child. Schools should know the content of the Court orders rather than be told by a parent (and accept) who is attending to pick up their child/children or who to contact at certain times. 

Who is going to pay the bill: parenting orders may stipulate who is going to pay for a child’s education or maintenance.  It is important for schools to know which parent is going to pay the school fees so they know where to send the invoice and who is paying the bill. A word of caution is that, unless stipulated within the order, schools should not split a school fee account. A single account should be sent- let the parents sort out the payment arrangements. Note that Court orders that assign school fee payments to only one parent may affect enrolment contract details.

Who to contact: depending upon which parent has the responsibility for the child, schools need to know who to contact in emergency situations or if an incident has occurred involving their child.

Parents attendance at school events:  at some school events, such as school concerts, plays or other volunteer or fundraising events, one parent may express concern that the other parent is at a certain event and tell the school to ask the other parent to leave.  For example, the mother may become frustrated that the father is present at a school function on a non-contact day and ask the school to request that the father leave the school.  Additionally, when the parents separate, one parent may tell the school that the other parent is longer allowed to have access to the child or any information relating to the child.  However, without access to sealed or certified copies of parenting orders or a parenting plan stipulating that a parent is restricted from responsibility for the child or from having access to the child, schools cannot restrict a parent from seeing or being involved with a child at a school function or event.

Restraining orders:depending on each state or territory’s legislative requirements, schools may also need to consider any restraining orders issued by a Court. Restraining orders are referred to differently and administered in each state and territory and schools should understand the law in their jurisdiction.  Schools should request a sealed or certified copy of the restraining orders in order to determine which parent is restricted from seeing or being in the proximity of the child or the other parent. The school can then develop processes to ensure that their duty of care for the child is not compromised. It is not appropriate to assume that a restraining order has been issued simply on a verbal acknowledgement from either party.

Subpoenaed information: schools may find themselves in a situation where they have been served with a subpoena to produce documents relating to a child at the school.  The information that schools keep that they may be required to provide includes: school reports, attendance records, medical records or any other document or personal information requested in the subpoena. It is always advisable to seek legal advice whenever a school is served with a subpoena.

Where to send reports and other school information: sometimes parenting orders may stipulate who receives information from a school such as reports and newsletters.  Parenting orders may state who is to request and pay for any charges relating to the request for information.  Therefore, schools need to be aware of where they send reports and other school materials.

When a parent comes unexpectedly to pick up their child: in the event that a parent comes to collect their child/children unexpectedly, schools need to be aware of what the Court orders state and whether the parent has care of the child at that time.  If there are no Court orders in place, schools should ask the parent to leave and obtain permission for the collection of the child from the other parent or legal permission for such an action.  Schools should contact the other parent immediately and inform the parent of what has occurred.

It may also be prudent that schools also request identification from the person to ensure the person who is asking for the child/children is a parent or someone who is permitted to collect the child under the orders.

Where both parents regularly spend time with their children with Court orders in place, and a parent arrives on a day or time that is out of the ordinary, schools should contact the other parent and clarify whether they consent to the child leaving with the parent.  If the other parent does not consent to the child being removed from the school, the child should not be permitted to leave.

It is important for schools to note that, unless stated otherwise in Court orders, both parents have equal parental responsibility for the child and have equal right to make decisions for their child.   Furthermore, it is also important for schools to be aware that step-parents can and do carry out parenting roles; but this does not give them legal parental responsibility over the child or authority to make decisions for the child.

Schools may also check with the Family Court or the Federal Circuit Court to see if there is a Court order restricting a parent’s contact with their child or if there has been any change in the parental responsibility.

What schools need to know

The first port of call when deciding what schools need to know is to ask parents whether there are any relevant and current Family Court of FCC orders or any other type of parenting arrangement in place at the time of enrolment.  If there are orders in place, schools need to request these orders so they are aware of their obligations, and any parenting arrangements. Once the school is aware of what the sealed Court orders state, they can make arrangements to comply.

Questions that schools should be asking:

  • Is there any changeover to occur at the school (before or after hours)?
  • Does one parent have to authorise the other parent to collect the child in certain situations?
  • Does the school need to do anything such as sending two sets of reports or newsletters?
  • Does the parent have to request any material from the school such as reports and newsletters?
  • Who does the school contact in an emergency?

Is your school aware of the possible implications of Family Court or Federal Circuit Court orders?

About the Author

William Kelly is a School Governance Reporter. He can be contacted here.

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