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Reader question: Is home schooling legal in Austria?

Homeschooling is banned or heavily restricted in several European countries. What’s the situation in Austria?

Homeschooling is permitted in Austria according to certain rules. Picture by Element5 on Unsplash
Homeschooling is permitted in Austria according to certain rules. Picture by Element5 on Unsplash

Due to geographical problems accessing schools or the special needs of a child – as well as other practical and ideological differences –  parents have sometimes seen homeschooling as an alternative. 

For parents from other parts of the world, particularly English-speaking countries, they are used to rules for home schooling children which are relatively relaxed.

In Europe however, the rules can be strict – or homeschooling can be banned entirely. 

While it is constitutionally guaranteed in Italy and Ireland, other countries like the Netherlands and Sweden ban the practice.

Neighbouring Germany has completely banned homeschooling, while in Switzerland it depends on the canton. 

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for homeschooling children in Switzerland?

Common justifications for banning homeschooling include a need to ensure children receive the same moral and ideological foundation, a desire to ensure school attendance, a lack of social skills among homeschooled children and concerns about the standard of education.

Can you homeschool your children in Austria? 

Homeschooling is permitted in Austria. A right to homeschool your kids has been enshrined in Austrian law as part of the Compulsory Education Act of 1985.

Private schools or homeschooling must be “at least equivalent” to the education a person receives at state schools. 

Parents who want to homeschool their kids need to inform the regional school board (Bezirksschulrat) at the start of each year. 

Generally, these requests will be approved unless it is established that the homeschooling is not equivalent to that of the public system. 

If the request is rejected, parents can appeal to the local education commission (Landesschulrat) to have their case heard. 

Parents do not need any special qualifications to homeschool their kids. 

Standards are maintained by a requirement for each child to pass annual state exams – the same exams sat by children attending schools. 

If the homeschooled child fails the exam, he or she is required to attend school the following year. 

Is homeschooling common in Austria? 

Although it is legally allowed, homeschooling is relatively rare in Austria. 

Only around 2,300 children are homeschooled in Austria, although this figure has risen since the pandemic – particularly among Covid sceptic parents who oppose vaccinations and/or mask rules.* 

While numbers are uncertain, there are believed to be a handful of German children homeschooled in Austria due to the former country’s ban on the practice. 

Why do people homeschool in Austria? 

Of course, the reasons for homeschooling your kids are the same in every country, but one added element which is relevant to Local readers is the desire to teach your kids in English or another language. 

While this may appeal to parents from elsewhere, keep in mind that the annual exams must be in German. 

*This refers to genuine homeschooling and not students who were taught from home due to Covid-related school closures and associated restrictions. 

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Divorce in Austria: How the ‘culpability principle’ works and what you need to know about it

Austria is one of the countries where divorce can get extra messy as both parties may dispute in court whose "fault" it is when a marriage crumbles.

Divorce in Austria: How the 'culpability principle' works and what you need to know about it

Nobody gets married thinking about the possibility of divorcing later on, but being prepared for this is still crucial to both parties – especially if the divorce will take place in a foreign country with different laws.

In the majority of cases, if the “habitual residence” of the couple is in Austria, the divorce proceedings and laws will also be here. So that means that even if you are not an Austrian citizen, if you reside in Austria and your social contacts, particularly in terms of family and work, are here, this is where your divorce proceedings will take place.

There are several types of divorce in Austria, including consensual and “disputed” divorce. A disputed divorce can be requested due to the fault of one of the partners, dissolution of the household or “for other reasons”.

READ ALSO: Registered partnerships: What are the rules in Austria?

The simplest and quickest way to get divorced is by agreeing with your partner. You have to be separated for at least half a year (that doesn’t mean you need to live separately, but living together as non-spouses) and consider the marriage irreconcilable.

“The concept of household (häusliche Gemeinschaft) should, however, not be taken too literally”, explains the Vienna-based attorney Evert Vastenburg.

“If the parties still live together, but this “living together” has devolved into a pure Zweck-WG where there is very little left in the way of interaction or support, the household could also be qualified as no longer existent. But, of course, this too will depend heavily on the individual circumstances.”

What if there is no consensual divorce?

If the couple can’t agree on a divorce, they will move on to a “disputed divorce”. If there is no guilty behaviour, the party that seeks divorce can sue for it if the “domestic community” has been dissolved for three years (even if they still live together) and it cannot be expected that the marriage will be restored.

READ ALSO: How to become an Austrian citizen through marriage

Things can get extremely ugly in Austria if the divorce is filed on the culpability principle (Verschuldensscheidung), meaning that one partner blames the other for the end of the marriage.

For this divorce to be granted, the party needs to prove that the other has committed an act constituting a ground for divorce (a schwere Eheverfehlung), which has led to an irreparable breakdown of the marriage, Vastenburg explains.

What constitutes a “fault”?

The Austrian law only explicitly mentions two grounds for divorce, adultery and domestic abuse. Still, case law has developed an extensive list of reasons why someone would be granted divorce by blame.

Some examples of violations include mistreatment, prolonged silent treatments, excluding the partner from the bedroom, leaving the household, immoral behaviour, not fulfilling parenting or financial obligations, extreme jealousy, groundless refusal of sexual intercourse, and breaking trust by, for example, checking the other person’s phone and more.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

Divorces can get costly and complicated in Austria (Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash)

One case went all the way up to the Austrian Supreme Court, which had to decide whether a very close friendship between a husband and a female work colleague could be grounds for divorce.

In that particular case, the first and second instances ruled in favour of the wife, saying that the friendship generated the appearance of an extramarital affair. The Supreme court disagreed, but the situation could’ve been different if the wife had been able to prove the friends went on a holiday trip together or had been intimate. As it stood, the proof brought to court was not enough.

It goes to show how tricky things can get in Austrian courts, as husbands and wives try to prove each other’s blame.

What difference does it make if you can prove blame?

“In principle, a party found culpable will not be entitled to maintenance”. There are, however, exceptions for complex situations such as when there was a past stay-at-home arrangement, for example”, Vastenburg says.

Still, each case is different, and courts will evaluate how much the person is to blame for the end of the marriage versus how much they’d need alimony.

READ ALSO: Austria’s top court legalises same-sex marriage

It’s worth noting, though, that a party’s responsibility for the end of a marriage in itself does not have any effect on custody, according to Vastenburg.

“For custody and visitation issues, the child´s welfare (Kindeswohl) plays a central role.”, he adds. These rights are only affected if one of the parents could be seen as a threat to the child. “An affair alone would, in principle, not affect this”.

What should people be careful with?

According to expert attorneys, in case it looks like the divorce will head to a “culpability trial”, it is essential that the other party does not react to the partner’s violations with their own. So, for example, a wife who suspects her husband of cheating should not look for proof through illegal or immoral ways – this could be used against her.

Another possible issue is that a spouse suffering abuse could be sued and blamed for the divorce if they run away from their shared home.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to apply for a residency permit in Austria

“That is a possible scenario because abandoning the marital household on your own accord, i.e. against the will of your spouse, may constitute a ground for divorce”, Vastenburg says.

“The law provides some assistance here by allowing people to file for provisional separate domicile (gesonderte Wohnsitznahme). With this procedure, a court can rule that the applicant is allowed to provisionally leave the household”, the attorney adds.

Aside from not incurring violations yourself, it’s worth remembering that fault-based divorces should be filed within six months upon a party’s awareness of the ground of divorce. Additionally, if the party culpable can prove they were forgiven, the divorce is also not granted.

What advice would you give to someone considering getting a divorce based on the partner’s fault?

“This will depend on the lawyer. My personal advice is always to at least attempt a divorce by mutual consent: it saves the parties both money and especially emotional distress. If this is not possible, a fault-based divorce could be filed”.

It’s crucial to get in touch with an attorney or even help services to get the best help and advice concerning your own situation.

READ ALSO: ‘Taboo in Austrian society’: How women still face barriers accessing abortion

In Austria, several associations advise and offer assistance to people, especially women in need. You can search for “Frauenhilfe” and your state to find the one closest to you.

For emergencies, there is a 24-hours Women’s Emergency Helpline that offers free counselling in German, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, English, Farsi, Polish and Spanish: 01 71 71 9. They offer counselling by trained psychologists, social workers and lawyers.