teacher reading a story to children. concept for parental consent for activities and lessons at school

When children require parental consent to take part in certain activities at school, what happens if the separated parents don’t agree, and how can parents remedy the situation?

Over the past few years, I have increasingly been asked to assist on occasions where parents are in a dispute as to whether consent can be provided for a child to take part in an activity at school, or engage in part of education where parental consent if required.

Examples of when parental consent is disputed

The increase in disputes over parental consent appears to be at least partially fuelled by the increasing amounts of potentially controversial parts of education – relating to, for example, sex education. These can be difficult areas for both schools and parents to manage and negotiate.

What happens if one parent doesn’t consent?

Each school may apply a different policy. In situations I’ve seen, where one parent may consent to a child taking part in a certain part of education but the other parent specifically notified the school that they do not consent, the school will usually take a cautious approach and not allow the child to take part in that specific piece of education.

In those circumstances, if the parents cannot reach an agreement, it may be necessary for an application to be made to the Court for a Specific Issue or Prohibited Steps Order.

If it goes to Court, the Court will have to determine whether the child should take part in the specific piece of education, or indeed on occasion, attend the disputed school trip or activity.

What about parental consent for school trips?

So far as school trips are concerned, often schools will be satisfied with the authority from one parent but if the other then subsequently specifically refuses permission, then it is unlikely the child will be allowed to attend without a Court Order or the issue being resolved between the parents.

It should, however, be stated that in the event that a school trip would include a visit abroad, potentially the consent of those holding parental responsibility is required to enable a child to be taken out of the jurisdiction. See our previous article on holidays abroad here.

What happens if the parental consent dispute goes to Court?

It is difficult to provide any clear guidance as to how a Court may approach such cases, as they are often very case specific. They are reliant upon the individual parents’ circumstances, religion and the reasons why certain aspects of the syllabus or education should not be provided.

In extreme circumstances, a Court may (if it takes the view that one parents is being particularly difficult and is, in effect, refusing to allow the child to engage in any form of education for which consent is required) take a strong view. In those cases, it may provide an Order which effectively overrides that parent’s parental responsibility and provides facility and permission for one parent only to make such determinations and provide consent.

This article is part of a series on Private Family Law and Children Law proceedings. If you would like to learn more about the rules around parental responsibility, contact, holidays and arrangements for separated parents, please click here for the full series.

The next article in the series will address the question, “what age must children of different sex have separate bedrooms?”

If you would like to discuss disputed parental consent or the different types of legal proceedings relating to children, please get in touch and we’d be happy to assist you.