Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Wednesday, 9 April 2008 15:41 UK

Fake divorce to get school places

By Danny Wood
BBC News, Madrid

rally in Madrid
Spaniards protested at the law change in a rally promoting family values

Spanish family court judges believe parents are divorcing to increase their children's chances of getting into their preferred state school.

Spain is certainly not the only country where the government-funded school system is regularly under the spotlight over concerns about the quality of the education and the need to improve standards. Finding a good state school can be very difficult for parents.

But Spanish parents are going to extreme lengths to get their children into the school of their choice.

Family Court Judges in the city of Seville have noticed that the divorce rate has increased significantly and suspect that parents are faking divorce to help get their children into local schools.

A change in the law, effective from the beginning of last year, means a child receives extra points if they live in a single parent home.

In most cases, the children in this category have either divorced or officially separated parents.

Other types of fraud

During March 2007 - the cut-off month for entry into state schools - court officials say the number of official separations compared to other months rose by 50%.

They say the same rise has occurred this year and are currently investigating whether these divorces were genuine.

The Andalusian Regional Education Department says that since the change in the law they are receiving complaints that parents are divorcing to secure school points.

''There are some cases of this actually occurring," a spokesperson for the education department told the BBC.

"But they are very few and where there are cases reported to us we investigate and if found to be true the child is not allowed into the school.

"Most parents who commit this type of fraud do it by providing false information about their home address or income, not by divorcing."

Nevertheless a 2005 change that streamlined Spain's divorce laws is contributing to the fake divorce phenomenon.

'Lack of freedom'

Under the new regulations and this "fast track" divorce, couples can officially be separate within three weeks.

Court officials say they have seen couples who have recently divorced, back in court after the school entry date, seeking a reconciliation. Faking divorce is not an offence in Spain.

Father Manuel Bru Alonso, a Roman Catholic priest and presenter for the-Catholic funded national radio station COPE, says part of the problem is this government legislation which undermines the strength of a marriage contract.

"Now a marriage contract in Spain has less strength than a business contract," says Fr Alonso.

"Couples can effectively get separated in about 24 hours."

But he was not surprised by parents going to the extreme of divorcing to improve their child's chance of getting a good education.

"This is happening because of a lack of freedom to choose in our education system," he said.

"Most parents want to send their children to independent schools that are partly funded by the government and partly independently funded, many of them are run by the church. But the government isn't facilitating an education system that provides enough of those schools."

Checking on others

Parents are becoming more aware of the unfair competition that can place their children at a disadvantage.

Reports suggest that private investigators are seeing a rise in business from parents who want other parents checked out because they suspect them of lying about earnings, where they live, or their marital status in order to advantage their children and secure a place in the local school.

And during 2007, Andalucia's authorities received more than 700 complaints from the public accusing parents of faking their children's school applications.

More than 20 cases of fraud were uncovered, involving couples who claimed to be divorced or separated but were actually living together. Their school applications were dismissed.

These extreme actions by some Spanish parents have a context. According to an internationally recognised student assessment called Pisa (Programme for International Student Assessment) during the last five years, reading and comprehension levels among teenage Spaniards have suffered the biggest decline in Europe.

There also other issues, peculiar to Spain, adding pressure for parents searching for the right school.

In recent years the status of religion has declined significantly in the classroom. It is now a non-assessable, voluntary subject.

So finding state schools that encourage religious studies to the satisfaction of Roman Catholic Spaniards is becoming harder.


There are also regional factors. In the Basques and Catalonia where the local languages of Euskera and Catalan respectively are officially accepted as the first language in state schools, the Spanish language is often reduced to the level of English or French. Many parents are very worried about.

Immigration has also become part of the education debate.

A child accrues points towards their selection in a school on the basis of factors like where they live, any disability and any economic disadvantage.

Spain's immigrant population has risen faster during the last decade than any other European country and is now 10% of the total. Immigrants tend to occupy lower income jobs.

Today, more than ever, Spanish parents are very aware of the problems that can confront them when they search for a school for their child and that competition for limited school places can be very, very tough.

So for some, faking a divorce to help them get a good education is worth it.

Print Sponsor

More parents lie to get schools
19 Mar 08 |  Education
Row over school admissions claims
12 Mar 08 |  Education
100,000 miss first-choice school
26 Feb 08 |  Education
Country profile: Spain
11 Mar 08 |  Country profiles

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific