She was set on sending her children to expensive private schools. There was just one problem – she and her former husband could not afford the $50,000 in annual fees.
The parents, given the court-ordered pseudonyms Mr and Ms Stewart, could not agree on where their primary school-aged son and daughter should go to high school.
The court found the parents could not afford $50,000 in annual fees to send their children to private schools. Photo: Louie Douvis
Ms Stewart sought a court order that the children be enrolled in specific single-sex private schools, with the son attending the father and grandfather's alma mater.
As the Federal Circuit Court heard last year, if both children attended private schools the tuition fees alone would be $50,000 a year. Even without taking account of the extra costs of a private education and probable fee increases, it would cost up to $300,000 to put the children through school.
Mr Stewart opposed his former wife's application, saying they simply could not afford it.
She, however, contended that he "should be able to pay 60 per cent of those fees if he reduces the amount of money that he spends on his wife's three children on things such as overseas holidays, the latest electronics and clothing etc".
In an affidavit, Ms Stewart said her weekly income was $370 from social security and $491 in child support.
She said while she agreed "that I do not earn a large sum", she was prepared to sell assets – including a $1.35 million property – to fund the children's schooling.
However, she also had a $64,523 HECS debt and owed $130,000 to a family member.
Judge Stephen Coates found Ms Stewart had not established that the likely cost of private schooling would be affordable.
"The mother said she could afford 40 per cent of the fees, yet on her income, I do not see she has proven her case," he said.
He ruled that the children should attend a government high school, saying they would not be disadvantaged as the state provides "a capable education system".
The judge said the Stewarts' son would cope with not going to the private school "if the mother responsibly handles the situation for the child, even though such an order would be a great disappointment to her". Indeed, he said, it "may be more of a disappointment to her than to the child".
Ms Stewart appealed against the court's decision, claiming Judge Coates failed to give adequate reasons and had misapprehended her case – and that she was willing to pay all the school fees herself, despite being unemployed and spending $290 each week more than she received.
The Family Court, sitting in Brisbane, this month dismissed Ms Stewart's appeal, saying there was "no merit in any of the grounds".
Chief Justice Diana Bryant, and Justices Murray Aldridge and Michael Kent, found there was no substance to arguments "that the trial judge was in error in his findings as to financial capacity or, perhaps more accurately, financial incapacity, for the probable future and ongoing costs of the mother's proposed schools".
They ordered Ms Stewart to pay the costs of the failed appeal.