No ruling in divorcees' legal row over child's school

A divorced couple could not agree on a school for their four-year-old son and took the fight to the courts.
A divorced couple could not agree on a school for their four-year-old son and took the fight to the courts.PHOTO: ST GRAPHIC

Judge tells couple to return if they can't agree on pick when 4-year-old is due to start school

A divorced couple could not agree on a school for their four-year-old son and took the fight to the courts.

But the judge has told them to come back later - if they cannot sort it out in a few years - when the boy is due to start school.

The father wants the boy to go to St Joseph's Institution (SJI) Junior while the mother is pushing for Pasir Ris Primary School (PRPS). Both parents are in their 30s.

The father, now pursuing full- time studies at Singapore Management University, claimed that it should be SJI, as his grandfather and father also went there and the school had more stable support.

But the mother, a teacher, countered that PRPS matched SJI's standards and the father's wish to raise the boy in a Catholic environment was best facilitated in a Catholic home, not a Catholic school.

"Much could take place from now till 2017, and family circumstances and parties' viewpoints may well change," said the judge. He asked the parents to seek the court's view closer to the school registration time if they are still unable to resolve the disagreement by then.

District Judge Eugene Tay, in judgment grounds released on Wednesday, held that it was premature to decide as the boy would be due for school only in 2017. "Much could take place from now till 2017, and family circumstances and parties' viewpoints may well change."

He asked the parents to seek the court's view closer to the registration time if they are still unable to resolve the disagreement by then.

The couple married in 2010 and split three years later. An interim judgment for the divorce was given in 2013, pending settlement of ancillary matters. An agreement in September 2013 gave joint custody to both parties, with care and control going to the mother and access terms detailed for the father, among other things.

These terms were included in the November 2013 interim judgment. But in February this year, the father, through lawyer Lai Swee Fung, applied to review the access and living arrangements for the child. Apart from care and control and access, he also sought the court's decision that it was in the child's best interest to go to a Catholic-run school.

The mother, through lawyer Carrie Gill, also sought to vary the November 2013 orders, by providing the father access to the boy from 4pm on Thursdays to 4pm on Saturdays when the boy starts school.

Judge Tay heard both applications in June this year and made no order. The father has appealed against his decision not to make an order. He wants his son to continue the tradition of going to SJI, as three generations before the boy had done.

He believes that since the child has settled in nicely in nursery school, with many friends and classmates likely to progress to Catholic-run primary schools, the boy should be allowed to do likewise.

The father also claimed that if the boy were to go to PRPS, "it was likely the child would have to start from scratch to form new friendships". He said the child, having come from a broken home, may find it hard to adjust to a new school environment, compared with pupils who come from stable home environments.

The mother countered that PRPS was much closer to her home, being 350m away, while SJI- in Essex Road - would require long daily commutes. It was in the child's best interests to be in a school that was closer to home, she said. While her home is in Pasir Ris, the boy's father lives in King Albert Park.

The court rejected the father's request to stop paying $1,000 a month for child maintenance as he is now a full-time student and not working. The judge said it was the father's choice not to work.

The couple are not named to protect the child's identity.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2015, with the headline 'No ruling in divorcees' legal row over child's school'. Print Edition | Subscribe