Make sure your contracts are watertight!

 

Once upon a time there was a family – mum, stepdad and little Johnny (not his real name).  Mum wanted to make sure that Johnny got the best education she could afford so she enrolled him into a private school during his primary school years.  And they all lived happily ever after ….. or did they?

 

As it turns out from the commencement of school (2009) until the end of Year 9 (2015) things were pretty good.  Johnny was doing well at school and had a good relationship with his Mum and stepdad.  And then he started Year 10!  After a tumultuous start to the year, Johnny moved out of home after which Mum and stepdad lost contact with Johnny for a period of time.  Mum blamed the school, in particular a school counsellor for interfering.  After a while Mum found out that Johnny was staying at a Church run facility but was unable to contact him.  They knew that he was still attending school but believed that his academic performance was suffering.

 

Mum made it very clear to the school that she did not want Johnny to continue attending that school (2016).  The school ignored her requests and the Deputy Principal told her that she did not need to worry about finances for Johnny saying that because Johnny was 16, he qualified for Centrelink benefits just like a university student.  Sometime later Mum received a communication this time from the Principal stating that whilst Johnny remained at the school they had been assisting him with food, clothing, school uniform and fees.  Six months later the Principal wrote to Mum again, this time stating that he actually meant that the school had advanced money to cover these items, not that it had underwritten Johnny’s school fees.  Mum, understandably, refused to pay the tuition fees for the period that Johnny remained at the school after her request to terminate his enrolment.

 

And then the fight broke out!  Mum had signed a contract with the school when Johnny was first enrolled.  The school maintained that the contract that was signed at the beginning of the enrolment essentially carried on throughout the time that Johnny attended at the school and demanded that Mum pay nearly $20,000 in outstanding school fees. Interestingly, in early 2017, the Business Manager sent a letter to all parents asking all parents to complete the School Fee Agreement form and to pay the fees as set out in the enclosed fee invoice if they wished their child’s enrolment to continue.  Obviously, Mum didn’t complete the form or pay the invoice.  Unsurprisingly, Mum received a letter in almost exactly the same terms in early 2018.  Again, Mum didn’t complete the form or pay the invoice.

 

It was now up to the Court to decide whether or not the relationship between the mother and the school was one of annual contracts or if the initial contract entered into in 2009 was ongoing throughout Johnny’s attendance at the school.  After trying to defend her position in the Magistrates’ Court where it had decided that the Mum was liable for the $20,000, she appealed to the Supreme Court where it was decided that the relationship between the mother and the school was that of a series of separate contracts for each school year.  The Court’s decision turned on the fact that it could be inferred from the parent’s conduct in sending their child to school each day was an acceptance of the terms offered by the school, the fact that the Mum had not sent Johnny to school during the relevant period was sufficient for the Judge to rule in favour of the mum and set aside the Judgment of the Magistrates’ Court.  In other words, the mum was not required to pay the $20,000.

 

Whether you are the provider or the receiver of goods or services, you should always obtain legal advice before signing any contract to make sure that you are aware of your rights and obligations under the contract and whether or not there are any issues which will prevent you from enforcing those rights in the event that something goes wrong.

If you would like to know more, please contact one of our friendly staff at Bambrick Legal today:

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