As the end of summer approaches the beginning of the school year is on the minds of many. Even without the stresses associated with COVID-19, the start of the school year can bring additional issues to light for separated or divorced parents. In a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the court had to weigh in on whether a child should attend a French immersion school or a French school when her parents could not agree.

Parents speak different languages and want different schools

The parents were married in September 2006. They had one child together was almost 12 at the time of the trial and was about to start grade 7. The mother, who is bilingual, wanted the daughter to attend a French school, in which all instruction is in French. The father speaks only English, and wanted the child to attend an English language school that offered French immersion, in which instruction is provided in English and French.

Up to this year, the child had been attending a French school, though the family spoke English at home. The father said the parents had a deal in place that the daughter would attend French immersion once she reached grade 7, but whether or not such a deal is in place, it wasn’t something they agreed on.

What is in the best interests of the child?

Like all decisions involving children, the courts are bound by doing what is in the best interests of the child. The court reviewed a 2012 decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal in which the decision stated that the linguistic benefits from a French school are generally preferable when one parent speaks English and the other speaks French. The court agreed that in this case, the value of a French school was a benefit to the child.

Other factors to consider when choosing which school the child should attend

The court then turned to a number of other factors to consider, including the distance of each school to the parents’ homes, religious instruction, and school attributes. The two schools did not differ much in these areas, but there were some factors where one school was a clear benefit over the other. The child’s friends would be attending the French school, but she would not know anyone at the French immersion school. She also has a preference, which is to attend the French school. However, the father says that the French immersion school is the only one that will allow him to participate meaningfully in the child’s education.

In the end, the court was sympathetic to the father’s inability to participate as meaningfully as he wants with the French school, the benefits of the child’s attendance at that school were of greater value, and so the court ordered she attend the French school.

Separation, divorce, and other family disputes are generally stressful and emotional. If you are contemplating a separation or divorce, your best short-term plan is to contact an experienced family lawyer immediately to understand your options, and to formulate a strategy for moving forward. Contact the knowledgeable, effective, and compassionate family lawyer at NULaw online or at 416-481-5604 to book a consultation.

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