Can Private School Tuition Be a Child Support Obligation?

Alan R. Burton Attorney at Law

Child support is supposed to cover a child’s basic needs, such as food and shelter. What about educational expenses, though? Education is hardly a luxury; school attendance has been mandatory for American children for well over a century. Providing for a child’s education is an important aspect of parenting. Thus, Florida parenting plans include provisions about which parent is responsible for making various decisions related to the children’s education. What happens when parents divorce while their children are enrolled in private school?

The Children’s Best Interest

Every question related to a parenting plan is, at its core, about the best interest of the children.  Education is one aspect of child-rearing about which parents are likely to have strong opinions.  Some parents feel that sending children to a private school, even if it requires great financial sacrifice on the parents’ part, is the only way to ensure that the children study in a safe environment where teachers are genuinely invested in the children’s success. Others feel that private school tuition is an unnecessary expense and that parents could help their children more simply by saving money to help them with college tuition and other expenses related to early adulthood. The education issue is a perfect example of why parenting plans are individualized and not one size fits all.

In determining whether it is in a child’s best interest to continue attending private school after the parents divorce, judges tend not to take a position on whether the education the children will receive at a private school is better than what they would get at a public school. Rather, their aim is to cause as little disruption to the children’s lives as possible. If the children are already attending a private school, they have probably already formed friendships with their classmates and gotten used to having the teachers and school staff as a presence in their lives. Making them move to a different school would add another difficult adjustment to an already disruptive period in their lives.

Maintaining the Standard of Living

In determining amounts of spousal support and child support, judges take into account the family’s standard of living before the divorce. The idea is that it is not fair for one spouse to have to live much more modestly after the divorce than during the marriage, while the other spouse goes on with life as normal. Likewise, spending less time with the children after a divorce does not mean that you have less of a responsibility to support them financially. Forrest v. Ron was a Florida case involving child support obligations related to private school tuition. The court ruled that the parents had agreed to keep the children in private schools until they completed third grade; therefore, the children’s expenses, on the basis of which child support obligations were determined, reflected this.

Alan R. Burton can Help with Parenting Plan Questions

Every family is unique, and therefore, so is every parenting plan. Contact Alan R. Burton in Boca Raton, Florida if you think your parenting plan should be modified to better reflect your family’s needs and goals.

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