A divorce can affect children’s schooling in several ways. Most obviously and immediately, the practical upheavals and emotional distress that often accompany a relationship break-up can have repercussions in the classroom.
Children may struggle with their behaviour, their learning or both. There is even research to suggest that divorce damages children’s prospects at GCSE and A-Level, and increases the likelihood of inappropriate use of alcohol or drugs. Additionally, some children of divorcing parents must move schools, either because the parent with residency moves areas or, sometimes, because school fees are no longer affordable.
Most parents will want to reduce the chances of a divorce negatively affecting their children. However, if they are focused on the practicalities of the split or perhaps of finding the right divorce lawyers in London or elsewhere, ensuring that their child’s education and school experience is unaffected may slip under the radar, at least for a while.
This is where schools and teachers come in. With around 42% of UK marriages now ending in divorce, it would be unusual to find a classroom where no child has personal experience of divorcing parents. According to Resolution, the association of family law solicitors, this statistic translates into 100,000 children annually experiencing the divorce of their parents.
Practical and Emotional Support for Children in Schools
Unfortunately, funding cuts have removed much of the support schools used to be able to access from local authorities and the voluntary sector. That said, schools are well placed to draw on their pre-existing experience to help children affected by divorce. First and foremost, it is important that every child has a named adult, whether that is a personal tutor or another trusted individual, to whom they can go for support and advice. Secondly, PSHE and Citizenship lessons can be a valuable way for schools to help pupils explore their own feelings in relation to divorce, as well as signposting additional agencies and resources to seek further advice and support.
This can help children whose families are currently going through a divorce feel less alone, as well as ensuring that all children have a basic grasp of what divorce is and how it can affect families. It is, of course, essential that teachers have the requisite resources to enable them to prepare effectively for these lessons and to deal with any questions that may arise.
Changing Schools after Divorce
Schools also need to appreciate that a child’s educational situation may change as a result of their parents’ divorce. While the general rule is that it is best for the status quo to be maintained and children to continue at the same school, this is not always possible.
Parents, of course, have access to legal advice from divorce solicitors in London and across the country but schools usually do not, and must wait to be told if a child will be leaving them. Although changes to a child’s place of education can generally only be made by those with parental responsibility, a divorcing couple may sometimes disagree and may have to ask a court to decide for them.
If a child needs to move school as a result of a divorce, their old school can ease the transition by ensuring that the new school is fully briefed about its new pupil and receives all relevant reports, schoolwork and other paperwork. It is usually also helpful for a child to visit their new school for a transition or induction day before formally joining. They should also be allowed to say goodbye to existing school friends and be reassured that they will be able to stay in touch should they wish to do so.
School Reports and Other Paperwork
Schools must be made aware that both parents are entitled to copies of school reports, letters and other communications, unless there is a court order to say otherwise.
This can be an administrative headache for office staff but usually helps both parents to continue to feel that they play a valued and important role in their child’s education. In turn, children are likely to find a divorce easier to handle if both parents remain engaged and interested in all aspects of their lives.
It may also be necessary for schools to be kept up to date with contact arrangements affecting the children of divorcing parents.
This is particularly likely to be the case where a split is acrimonious and contact with one parent begins or ends with the child being picked up or dropped off at school. Similarly, it is crucial that schools are informed if a court has ruled that a parent is not allowed contact with their child. This is an area where specialist legal advice is usually needed.
It is often fathers who feel short-changed when it comes to post-divorce contact arrangements and, as a result, they may seek the help of specialist men’s divorce lawyers. However, any good family law solicitor should be able to ensure that parents and schools stay on the same page when it comes to the education of the children of divorcing parents.