The daily and annual boarder fees for independent schools have become increasingly expensive over the last few years. This represents a substantial financial commitment over the education of a child, and often has to be considered when negotiating a financial settlement after divorce or separation.

Disputes can arise for many reasons, perhaps parents have different priorities or maybe one parent is finding it harder to cope with paying school fees and all the extra costs.

‘Perhaps one of the largest bones of contention between separated parents when it comes to their children’s schooling is how the school fees will be paid when there is a wish for the children to continue to be or be privately educated,’ says Wendy Beacom, Partner and Head of Private Family Law at Tilly Bailey and Irvine Law Firm. ‘Often, even prior to separation, parents have made sacrifices in order to pay for their children’s school fees.  With the division of pooled financial resources, the continued payment of school fees may no longer be met as easily.’

If agreement cannot be reached between you and your former partner, you may consider where the law stands on who is responsible to pay these fees. The court does have powers under the Matrimonial Causes Act to order a parent to make payments for the benefit of discharging school fees.  In deciding if that power should be exercised, the court will look at a number of factors including:

Who pays private school fees after divorce or separation?

Where are the children currently educated?

Are the children already in attendance at a private school, or is it intended they would move to one or start at a new one?If they already attend the school, they may have significant ties there.Moving to a new school now may cause unnecessary upheaval when they are already dealing with the upset of their parents separating.

What were the parents’ intentions?

Was it always agreed between the parents that their children would attend private school?Perhaps siblings already attend private school or one of the parents went to that school.


If there are limited resources to pay for school fees, then a court is likely to view them as a luxury rather than a necessity.This is particularly pertinent given the current climate.The basic housing needs of a child will always come as a priority and a court will not leave a parent in financial difficulty in order to meet school fees.The court will take into account all financial circumstances between the parents when deciding if a contribution order should be made.If one parent could easily afford to continue to pay school fees and the other parent has more limited resources, then the court is likely to make a contribution order against the wealthier parent.

Refusal to pay school fees

If a parent can afford to pay for their children’s school fees but simply decides not to continue paying, then the court will be critical of the refusal unless a very good reason is given.  Thus, if it is just a wilful refusal by the paying parent without any good reason, then the court can enforce the terms of a court order.

How can we help?

How can we help?

We recommend that you obtain early expert legal advice in order that your children face as little disruption to their education as is possible.

For further information, or to speak to a member of our Private Family Law Team about how they can assist, contact us today on 01740 646000or fill in the online enquiry form and a member of the team will be in touch.

Call: 01740 646000