How principals should navigate family law issues

How principals should navigate family law issues

Early indications from The Educator’s previous school law survey have found that navigating family law issues remains the biggest challenge facing leaders in Australia’s schools.

State and Federal laws are often complicated by feuding parents and it is imperative for school leaders to manage these situations delicately whilst remaining legally compliant.

Nathan Croot, senior associate at Emil Ford Lawyers, said that for schools, every family law matter or dispute between parents is “a unique situation involving specific personalities and issues”.

“Therefore, principals need to adapt their approach to each situation,” Croot told The Educator.

Croot outlined some important considerations that every principal should keep in mind when dealing with parental conflicts.

“It is best for the school not to get involved and to encourage them to sort out their issues away from the school,” he said.

“This not only keeps the school out of the conflict but it also helps to make the school a safe place for the child.”

However, Croot said there will be times when the school will be caught in the middle of a conflict.

“In most situations, schools should encourage the parents to act in accordance with any court orders that are in place,” Croot said.

“Even though a school is not bound by the orders because it is not a party to the proceedings, it should take the orders seriously and encourage the parents to do the same.”

Croot added that if there is nothing else to guide the school’s decision, the school should consider what is in the best interests of the child.

Responding to The Educator’s school law survey, one principal said that navigating family law issues was a “significant issue” in their school.

“Dealing with parenting orders and the rights of the children in these matters, particularly when they are over 14 and ask for no contact with a parent even though custody orders are in place, is a significant issue,” the principal said.

Another principal pointed to issues surrounding social media and instant communication, saying that any issue that arises at their school is “immediately shared posted on social media”.

“Controlling information is impossible. Principals are on the back-foot immediately and defending their position on issues that have been ramped up whether in the media or in the school community,” they said.

“How do you even control your school's Facebook page? Should schools have a Facebook page? One might ask.”

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