Having parents who are actively involved in a child’s education is unquestionably a huge benefit for the child. However, for divorced or separated parents who place great value on education, but have different ideas about the best school for a child to attend, the difference in opinion about what is best for the child can lead to an impasse. In a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the court dealt with an example of such a situation.

Both parents want child to attend school in French

The parents, who live in the Ottawa area, had their child in 2016 and separated in 2018. The mother is originally from Panama and speaks Spanish, English, and some French. The father grew up in Canada and speaks English and Spanish.

Ottawa, like many places in Canada, has a high proportion of residents who speak both English and French. Both parents wanted the child exposed to French while attending school. However, how immersive a program the child should enter was a matter of contention. The father wanted the child to go to a French Immersion program where French is taught as a second language. The mother, however, wanted the child to attend a French school where the language is taught as a first language.

The parents retained a professional to conduct a parenting assessment, part of which focused on which school the child should attend. Ultimately, the report recommended that the child attend a French school, but noted that it would be acceptable for the parents to decide that she enroll in a French immersion school instead.

Court focuses on the best interest of the child

Like all decisions related to children, the court focused on what is in the best interests of the child. When it comes to school, there are a number of factors a court can consider in making this determination. They include:

  1. The ability of the parents to carry out the educational plan
  2. The ability of the parents to assist the child with homework
  3. The interests of the child a paramount over the interests of the parents
  4. The promotion of the child’s cultural and linguistic heritage within the educational program
  5. The location of the school to where the parents live or may live
  6. Problems associated with the schools

The assessments of the child noted that she was an “independent, happy, energetic, bright, and advanced young girl.” The assessor thought that the child would likely have an easy time adapting to the French language.

In looking at the parents’ backgrounds, the court stated that while the mother speaks proficient French, the father is a unilingual anglophone with some understanding of Spanish. However, he believes it is important for the child to become bilingual in French and English.

The issue here was not whether one school is more or less advantageous than the other. Instead, the court focused on the ability for the parents to assist the child with her school work. While the French school would likely lead to the child having a better grasp of the language, the father would not be able to help her with homework since he doesn’t speak French. In French immersion, there will be more opportunities for the father to engage in the child’s work since not all school work is performed in French. This led to the court’s decision that it would be in the child’s best interests to attend a French immersion 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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