September is back-to-school time. It can be a challenging time for parents generally, but when there is a separation or divorce in the mix, there can be a lot of fine-tuning getting kids to-and-from school. A very recent Ontario court illustrates some of the difficulties that can arise.
The parents had separated after 12 years of marriage and had two children, now aged 12 and 14. They executed a separation agreement that provided for joint custody, a week-on/week-off parenting schedule, and shared special and extraordinary expenses.
However even after the separation, the children lived mainly with the mother in the former matrimonial home, and continued to attend the same school as before. The father moved to an area served by a different school district.
But things turned sour when the mother advised that she was planning to sell the former matrimonial home and move to her new partner’s residence. Since her new home was outside the children’s current school district, this meant that neither parent would be living within those school boundaries. The parents went to court, where a judge ruled that the children’s best interests nonetheless called for them to stay in the same school for the 2018 school year. The parents were also ordered to apply for a “cross boundary school transfer” from the school board, that was required for any students attending from outside the district.
One problem remained, however: The question of which parent was required to pay the transportation costs for getting the children to and from school. Even with the cross boundary school transfer, they were no longer eligible for school board-funded bus transportation; the parents were now themselves responsible for transporting the children to-and-from school, which was a distance of about 10 km each way.
With the start of the new school year looming, the father applied to the court again; this time he asked that the mother be ordered to shoulder the full costs of the children’s private transportation, which he said would cost $110 per day (i.e. $55 each way for two children). Essentially, he blamed her for the changed circumstances and upswing in transportation costs, since she had unilaterally decided to move out of the children’s school district and this precluded their use of the school bus option.
The mother, on the other hand, claimed that each of them should be responsible for their own costs in transporting the children to-and-from school. After all, this was what their separation agreement provided for, under special and extraordinary expenses. The mother also pointed out that the father’s claim that the children needed $110-a-day private transportation, rather than less expensive options such as public transit or even a taxi, was not proven.
By way of a temporary order to address the impending start of the school year, the court agreed with the mother. The clear wording of the separation agreement did not require the mother to stay in the school district, nor pay the full costs of deciding not to. Nor was the court persuaded that the father’s $110 daily fee estimate was the most cost-effective option. The court added:
In the past, both parties, including the [father], have benefitted from the [mother] maintaining a residence inside the children’s school district – the fact that the [mother] is no longer doing so does not mean that only she has to bear any increased costs.
As a parting note, the court also said:
It is apparent from the evidence before me that these motions could have been avoided if both parties were more effective at communicating with each other in a constructive manner.
For the full text of the decision, see: