Paying child support for a private school after a divorce

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The following article was written by Joseph H. Nivin, Esq., of the law firm of Joseph H. Nivin.

Every parent wants their child to receive the best opportunities possible. Many families don’t believe their children will reach their full potential without a private school education. For single-parent families, paying for private school becomes even more difficult than for families where the parents live together. The purpose of this article is to provide information to single parents who are seeking tuition assistance from a private school.

In situations where the child lives primarily with one parent and the parents are divorced or separated, the non-custodial parent – the one with whom the child does not live – will almost always be required to pay basic child support, which is based on a percentage of parental income. Child support specifically for tuition fees in private schools, the subject of this article, is in addition to basic child support.

One of the most important factors the court will consider will be whether the child has ever attended a private school. In some cases, parents paying child support had agreed during the marriage that their children would attend a private school, but no longer wish to pay it once separated from their spouse. Courts will usually order people to keep paying part of their children’s private school tuition if they paid it voluntarily while living with the other parent.

Courts will also consider whether the non-custodial parent was involved in discussions about whether the child would attend a private school. The court will consider the circumstances of those discussions, as well as the status quo, when determining what weight to give to those prior conversations. In a recent case, an appeals court did not award private school tuition assistance even though the parents had considered sending the child to a private school; in this case, these discussions took place when the child was only a few months old and not even of school age when the case came to court.

Another court refused to order the non-custodial parent to contribute to the tuition of a private school in a case where the parties had signed a separation agreement stipulating that they would only share the tuition if they agreed that their children attend a private school. Their previous discussion of the matter – before the deal – had been only hypothetical, focusing on the merits of private versus public school. The court concluded that the conversation likely would have turned out differently had the parents had this discussion after they signed the separation agreement.

However, in cases where (1) the parents agreed to send their children to private school, (2) the children attended private school for years during the marriage, and (3) the non-custodial parent only raises an objection when being asked to pay child support, the court usually orders the non-custodial parent to contribute towards the tuition.

Courts are more likely to award alimony awards for private school tuition in cases where the parties enjoyed affluent lifestyles and/or high expenses during the marriage. Courts are also likely to order contributions to religious private schools where religion is an integral part of the family’s way of life.

Arguing with their child’s other parent is one of the most stressful and emotionally draining experiences a person can imagine. These cases are stressful not only for the parents, but also for the children. Although the unpleasantness of this dispute cannot be eliminated, it can be mitigated when the court ensures that the child receives the support necessary to continue attending the same school he or she attended before and to receive an education that maximizes his or her future prospects.

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