Every parent wants his or her child to receive the best possible opportunities. Many families do not believe that their children will achieve their full potential without a private school education. For single-parent families, paying for private school becomes even more arduous than it is for families where the parents live together. The purpose of this article is to provide information to single parents seeking support to pay for private school tuition.
In situations where the child lives primarily with one parent and the parents are divorced or separated, the non-custodial parent–the one who the child does not live with–will almost always be required to pay basic child support, which is based upon a percentage of the parent’s income. Child support that is specifically for private school tuition, the focus of this article, is in addition to basic child support.
One of the most important factors that the Court will consider will be whether the child has already been attending private school. In some cases, parents who pay child support had agreed during the marriage that their children would attend private school, but then no longer wish to pay for it once they separate from their spouses. Courts will generally order people to continue to pay for a portion of their children’s private school tuition if they paid for it willingly when they lived with the other parent.
Courts will also consider whether the non-custodial parent participated in discussions about whether the child would attend private school. The court will consider the circumstances of those discussions, as well as the status quo, when it determines how much weight to give to these prior conversations. In one recent case, an appellate court did not award support for private school tuition even though the parents had discussed sending the child to private school; in this case, these discussions took place when the child was just a few months old, and the child was not even school age at the time the case came before the court.
Another court declined to order the non-custodial parent to contribute to private school tuition in a case where the parties signed a separation agreement saying they would only share tuition expenses if they agreed that their children would attend private school. Their previous discussion of the issue—prior to the agreement–had been only hypothetical, focusing on the merits of private school vs. public school. The court found that the conversation would likely have gone a different way if the parents had this discussion after they signed the separation agreement.
However, in those 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 he is being asked to pay child support, the court will generally order the non-custodial parent to contribute to the tuition payments.
Courts are more likely to issue awards of child support for private school tuition in cases where the parties enjoyed an affluent lifestyle and/or high spending patterns during the marriage. Courts are also likely to issue orders for contributions to religious private schools where religion is an integral part of the family’s lifestyle.
Fighting with the other parent of one’s child is among the most stressful, emotionally draining experiences that a person can imagine. These cases are trying not only for parents, but for children as well. While the unpleasant nature of this litigation cannot be eliminated, it can be lessened when the court makes sure that the child receives the support necessary to continue to attend the same school he or she had been going to previously and to receive an education that maximizes his or her prospects for a successful future.