Court orders father to pay child's school fees

A LANDMARK court ruling was made yesterday on a father's obligation to pay his child's tuition fees whether or not he agreed the private school she attends.

Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett yesterday dismissed an appeal filed by an unwed father against a magistrate requiring him to pay school fees for a child at a private school.

The father, along with counsel Ramona Farquharson-Seymour had appeal this ruling on the grounds that the Magistrate had no jurisdiction to make the order at all and without the father's consent .

Their third ground was that if the magistrate had such jurisdiction, the magistrate had made an error in not specifying the school for which fees were to be paid, exposing the unwed father to paying tuition at any school chosen by the mother "regardless of whether the appellant could afford to pay the fees."

In response to the argument, Sir Michael said: "I reject the first and second ground and hold that the Magistrate did have the jurisdiction to order the appellant to pay school fees for the child at a private school and to do so without the consent of the parent."

"As to the third ground, I agree that a magistrate in making the order should specify the school for which fees are to be paid. I am satisfied, however, that there was no doubt that the order was intended to mean the fees at the new school and was understood by the appellant and the respondent as at the new school."

The chief justice added that the latter was the origin of the dispute. In January 2011, a circuit magistrate ordered that the father pay the school fees for his child without having any part in the decisions as to which institution the child would be attending.

The child was attending one school where the father, willing to pay, had his other child and was able to receive a discount on fees. However, the mother wished to take the child out of that school and place her in a more costly school for travel convenience.

The mother would have kept the child in the western located school had the father been prepared to provide transport for his daughter to and from school.

During the appeal hearing, the man told the court his financial position had deteriorated and that he could no longer afford to pay any fees at any private school. The appellants referred to two cases of similar nature, however the chief justice did not accept them.

He contended that there were many cases where courts have ordered a parent to pay school fees at a private school "notwithstanding the absence of consent by a parent."

"No doubt it is a jurisdiction that must be carefully exercised where parties do not consent." The factors surrounding the case must also be looked at, he said. They include the ability of the parents to pay, prior agreement between parents as to the child's education, religious background of the parents, special child needs if any, and past attendance of the child.

He rejected the father's appeal, but noted that in light of his financial condition, he was at liberty to apply to the magistrate for a variation of the order having regard to the change of circumstances.

"At that time, the magistrate could consider the evidence of the needs and welfare of the child and the resources of the appellant in determining whether to vary the order."


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