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Liable for school Fees

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When I got divorced 13 years ago my ex and I had a verbal agreement that we would each pay for half of the children's catholic school fees. As the years passds and my ex who worked for himself never increased the private child care arrangement we had, I was finding it difficult to cover living costs let alone school fees.
I wrote a letter to my ex asking to contribute more towards the fees in lieu of the meagre amount he was giving for support or with no other alternative I would have to take my eldest out of the school. His reply was "take her out " My daughter spent the last two years of her schooling in a public school and I am more than thankful for the great education she received.
There s a 11 year gap between her and my youngest and he too has attended a cathlolic school.   Until the beginning of 2011 I was able to contribute but circumstances changed and so I again approached my ex about sending our son to a public school. My ex would not agree to my suggestion and said that his son wasn' t going anywhere.
My reply was that If that was the case then he would have to cover the fees himself. I called  and sent an email to the school telling them that I could no longer pay the fees and since  he was not willing to remove him from the school, then all future billing should be directed to my ex husband's address.
I also spoke to his solicitor over the phone telling him that I could no longer pay ands since my ex did not want to discuss alternatives then he would have to pay the fees himself.

I no longer heard from the school or my ex regarding the fees.

Last month I was told by my son that the school was out to get me due to non payment of fees quite surprised I phoned the school only to be told that they were still sending the fees to my old address and because I had not replied They had sent the matter to a collection agency.

It appears that despite my emails to the school and discussions with my ex husband and his solicitor the school is holding me liable for $8000 They say that this is my half as my ex as paid his

The reason
1. I signed the application form ( mind you my son was not accepted in the first round offers and the application form clearly states that)
2. after he didn't get accepted in the first round I sent the school a letter at the time asking that they migh reconsider the application in the second intake.

My Son was accepted amd to my knowledge I did not sign any other forms regarding official enrolement and only copies of the original enrolment and the letter I sent the Principal about the second round of offers was given to me

There argument is that I signed the application and sent a letter so I am Liable

However the both were done in primary school and my son is now in year nine and I have not signed any documentation concerning high school what so ever, but they say that the first application still stands.

I cannot afford to pay this amount of money as I am no longer working Full time
There is no legal agreement I cannot afford to send my son to a private school and yet because my ex wont agree then I am liable according to the school

I believe this to be most unjust and am hoping if anyone can give me any advise as to what I can do avoid this amount that I cannot afford due to my Son now living with his father and claims 100% care

I appreciate any help because I cant afford a solicitor and earn a little over the fresh hold so am not entitled to Legal aid
Why are you no longer working full time if I may ask?
I think much would depend upon exactly what the application encompassed. I don't even believe that this would come under the Family Law/Child Support umbrella. The dispute is with the school and I think is therefore a civil matter. However, I suspect that you don't much of a chance as you appear to have accepted what you applied and signed for over the years.

When it does come to the Family Law/Child Support arena, the latter legislation comes into play. Currently as you have shown intention (i.e. accepted the private schooling) then you would, if an application were made for a departure from formula assessment (generally termed by the CSA as Change of Assessment (COA)), under reason 3 (- high costs of caring for, educating or training the child in the manner expected by the parents), then there is a very good chance that you would become liable for part of the school fees. If a COA were initiated then it would very likely include a reason 8 (- a parent's income, property, financial resources, or earning capacity). This could see your income raised beyond what it actually is due to your reduced working hours and thus the potential for a greater earning capacity. Unfortunately the evidence points to the process being, as a matter of course, grossly unfair to the liable parent and thus to the children whilst in the care of the liable parent or often when not even in the care of the liable parent).

It is my own view and I believe the view of many others that the current legislation and it's interpretation surrounding school fees are too punitive and are greatly removed from the flexibility afforded children of intact families (i.e. the parents can simply pull children out).
My daughter attends a Catholic school and I agreed to pay half of my daughters fees in lieu of child support.  I too signed the applications forms.

A few years back my ex applied for child support (as well as 6 months of back-dated support even though I was advised the CSA could only go back 3 months) so I approached the school as you did and they basically said "too bad" and that any private agreement made between parents is irrelevant to the school, irrespective of whether I had that agreement in writing.  I then approached the CSA who also said "too bad" and that the only way to have the fees taken into consideration was to lodge a COA.

Not happy with this I took my ex to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (as I live in Canberra) and used the emails and letters as evidence of our agreement.  The tribunal contacted the school and was advised that if they had an order from the tribunal, they could transfer the school fee debt raised against me for the period in question onto my ex's account.  I won and the tribunal issued an order to the school telling them to transfer 6 months of fees onto my ex's account.  The order also advised the school that I was only to be held liable for 50% of my daughters school fees from the order issue date and that any fees raised prior to the order date cannot be recovered from me (if you read the fine print of the school application forms, you will see that the splitting of fees is for administration purposes only and that either parent can be held liable for the full amount of schools fees if the other parent refuses to pay).

Since the order was raised, my daughter has decided to spend most of her time at her mums (probably due to parental alienation) so my care has dropped below 14% which means I am now also able to offset 30% of my child support liability with school fees.  My ex took this to ACAT and lost.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that there are other ways of dealing with issues other than going through the CSA.
The current outstanding fees are a matter between you and the school, and it does look as if you need to negotiate a payment plan.

Moving forward, you may need to tell the school, in writing, that you withdraw your consent for the child to attend for purely financial reasons. It is then up to the other parent to continue or not as they choose, knowing that they are liable to pay the school all of the fees. The school can bill you for the past period where they had your consent, but not for any future period where they do not.

That opinion refers to the situation between you and the school, not to the situation between you, the other parent and the CSA.

If the other parent keeps the child at the school, they may apply for a Reason 3 COA. That does not automatically mean you will be liable as has been suggested. You have consented in the past, and saying no now will not change the fact that a precedent has been established.

However, part of the Reason 3 decision must be a consideration of your means. If you truly cannot afford it and you can show why that is so, the COA will fail.

Last edit: by Secretary SPCA

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