Paying school fees after divorce or separation

Who pays private school fees after divorce or separation?

According to the Financial Times, the average fee for independent schools is now over £15,000 a year for day pupils and £36,000 for boarders. This represents a substantial financial commitment for the education of a child, and often has to be taken into account when negotiating a financial settlement after divorce or separation.

Disputes can arise for many reasons: for example, parents may have different priorities or perhaps one parent is finding it harder to cope with paying school fees on an ongoing basis.

Sometimes, one of the main issues between separated parents is how the child’s or children’s school fees will be paid. Often, even prior to separation, parents have made sacrifices in order to pay for their children’s school fees.  With the division of the matrimonial finances, the continued payment of school fees may no longer be met as easily.

If agreement cannot be reached between parents which are married, the Family Court has the power to make an Order, under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, for a parent to pay or contribute towards school fees. In deciding if that power should be exercised, the Court can take into account the following factors:-

  • Where are the children currently educated?

Do the children already attend a private school or is intended they move to one? If they already attend the school, they may have significant ties there.  Moving to a new school 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?  It may be the case the child’s siblings already attend a private school, or one of the parents went to that school.

  • Affordability

If there are limited resources to pay for school fees, then the Court may view them as a luxury, rather than as a necessity.  The housing needs of a child will always come as a priority and the Court is very unlikely to leave a parent in financial difficulty in order to meet private school fees.  The Court will take into account all financial circumstances between the parents when deciding if an Order in relation to school fees 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 may make such an Order against the wealthier parent.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

It may be more cost-effective for parents to resolve any dispute about school fees in ADR: for example, mediation. This is where a neutral third party, the mediator, can help separated parents to reach an agreement about the marital finances, including whether or not the child or children should attend a private school and how the costs of this education will be met.

If ADR is not suitable or does not work, the other option is to settle the matter in the Family Court. This will provide certainty about the matter, but may not be cost-effective and can delay the resolution of the financial claims.

How we can 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, please contact Katherine Parker on 01473 350 580 or by email:

Katherine Parker is a solicitor in the Family Department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Ipswich.

Suffolk Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.