Education of an expat child after divorce
Van Hilten de Vries van Ruitenbeek Advocaten & Mediators (HVR) is a law firm specialising in family law besides a general practice. Based in The Hague, HVR also has a meeting point in Amsterdam.
Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child describes the right of the child to receive an education. For expat parents the actual right to an education is not as much of an issue as it is choosing the right school.
This in terms of best possibilities for the right diplomas, as well as creating a smooth transition - all keeping in mind the emotional well-being of the children. Not seldom employers are helpful, offering information or even paying the costs for international schools.
Living in the Netherlands gives you lots of choices, especially in the western part of the country. A luxury problem, not only for expats, but for anyone with children.
There are French schools, British schools, German schools, Japanese schools, American schools, international schools and an increasing number of Dutch (secondary) schools that offer "fast lane English" or a bilingual education (tweetalig onderwijs or tto).
And of course there is a huge offer of language classes that children can attend after school. As expat parents are often academics whose children are equally as intelligent, these children are often able to cope with a challenging curriculum.
It is, of course, understandable that expat parents might want their children to retain or develop their national identity. However, they should realise that this will not necessarily make the transition all that much easier.
One of the complications of moving abroad with children is that they are going through an internal struggle themselves, dealing with other norms in terms of social interaction as well as expectations of life, especially in secondary school.
When you're bringing up children in the Netherlands it is good to be aware of the relatively open and relaxed Dutch attitude when it comes to raising children. Not only that, various international surveys over the last 10 years, including ones by UNICEF and the WHO, have concluded that Dutch teenagers are most satisfied with their lives, and the happiest.
It’s a tempting life for teens coming in from abroad, especially as many expat parents tend to forget the right of the child to rest and leisure (Art. 31 of the Convention).
Education and divorce
The luxury problem of the vast array of choices when it comes to schools and afterschool (language) courses often becomes an even bigger problem when expat parents separate or get a divorce.
As a divorce lawyer and mediator with an international practice, I help parents deal with this dilemma quite often. And my first aim is to make the spouses think as parents when they have to make a parenting plan for after the divorce.
Parenting plan and children’s rights
When I have the opportunity to sit with parents and draw up a parenting plan, I try to make them see that this plan, in fact, ties in to the Convention on the rights of the child.
The fact that the state requires parents to come up with a parenting plan that protects the interests of the children is based on the Convention (Art. 5), emphasising the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents.
When making a parenting plan, the first issue is that of the right of the child to live with both parents or maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis (Art. 9 of the Convention).
School in most cases comes next, taking into account Art. 28 of the Convention: the right of the child to an education. Schooling and education, however, can easily become a main issue in expat divorce situations. Especially as expat children very often have two nationalities (sometimes even four) and in many cases speak several languages.
Language, culture and therefore schooling, can easily become a major subject of contention in a divorce situation.
What to think of the children who had a French father, a German mother, and who lived in The Hague? Their parents spoke French at home. Both children started attending a Dutch school at the age of four, but switched to a German school later on, with additional lessons in French and the eldest also in Hebrew.
After a while, the family had to move to Germany as both parents were posted there, but the parents divorced just before the actual move. The father wanted the children to attend a French school in Germany, as he wanted to avoid an imbalance between their French and German educations.
He even started proceedings to safeguard this, despite advice to the contrary from the German school, as one of the children was dyslectic. The court judged that his request was not in the interest of the children. It was an obvious judgement for most people but, unfortunately, not for everyone.
Role of the au pair
In a divorce, the au pair also can easily become a subject of disagreement, if only because you can’t split a human being into two. When the au pair is also hired to teach the children the language of their grandparents, it is not only their daily care, but also their language education that is at stake.
And how about the children who had a Chilean father, a French mother, and who also lived in The Hague. Their parents spoke French at home, the children had a Hispanic au pair, one child attended a Dutch kindergarten, and the other a French primary school.
When these parents divorced, they managed to reach an agreement at my mediation table, including regarding the au pair, keeping things as smooth as possible for the children. Not seldom, however, especially when these cases make it to court, the only solution is that the au pair leaves, the children go to after-school care and... additional Spanish lessons have to be arranged.
Creating a smooth transition for children
When expats are looking for a school for their children, they generally aim to achieve a smooth transition, an educational programme that leads to the desired diplomas - all with the emotional well-being of the children in the back of their minds.
So why not in a divorce situation? With the benefit of some of my own expat experience, I can only advise expat clients in divorce situation to never to forget the right of the child to rest and leisure time. Access to education is a children’s right, but not the only one!
Do you need specific advice about your particular situation?
For this and any other questions, Edith van Ruitenbeek, lawyer and partner at van Hilten de Vries van Ruitenbeek Advocaten & Mediators, can help you: