Child support is ordered by a court in cases where parents are no longer living together, such as in a divorce case. The order addresses the parents’ financial obligations to the child. Child support payments are intended for the benefit of the child, not the custodial parent. The amount is determined on a case-by-case basis but most states have a formula used for the calculation.
Child support payments are made to the parent who retains primary custody of the child. Child support may be used by the custodial parent to pay for costs associated with raising the child such as:
- Medical care;
- Education; or
- Any other needs of the child.
Does Child Support Include School Fees?
While a large number of states have laws providing child support payments for education, those laws may not address whether the non-custodial parent is required to pay private school tuition costs. The courts have some discretion on how these laws are applied. The court may also order the non-custodial parent to have sole responsibility for the costs of school.
How Does the Court Determine Whether to Order Private School Costs?
If the parents cannot reach a child support agreement, the court will intervene. Some state laws do not address whether a non-custodial parent is required to pay for private school tuition. In these cases, the court will exercise discretion to determine whether or not to make that part of the child support order.
Similar to any decision regarding child support, the court requires the requesting parent to show why private school attendance is required. The non-custodial parent may be required to show why private school attendance is not required if they do not want that to be part of the child support order.
Before deciding whether or not to require one or both parents to pay for the cost of private school tuition for the child, the court reviews the child’s best interest standard. A review of this standard may include one or more of the following considerations for the court:
- Whether the non-custodial parent has the ability to pay for the private school costs and for how long;
- Whether the child was attending private school before the divorce;
- Whether or not attending the private school is important to maintaining the parents’ religious beliefs fi the school has a religious affiliation;
- Whether there any less expensive schools in the area that can adequately meet the child’s needs;
- The length of the marriage;
- The incomes and debts of the parents;
- Whether the parents attended private school;
- Whether the child has special needs that can only be met by a private school education;
- The non-custodial parent’s level of involvement in the child’s education;
- Whether there are other children in the family who already attend private school; or
- Whether or not there is a visitation order in place.
How is a Child Support Agreement Created?
There are three main ways to form a child support agreement, including:
- By formal negotiations between the parties, usually involving having separate lawyers to represent each parent;
- Using alternative dispute resolution (ADR), which includes out-of-court processes such as mediation; or
- Through a court child support order that was issued by the court during a divorce or a legal separation proceeding.
It may also be possible to obtain a temporary order of child support from the court. These orders are often issued at the beginning of divorce proceedings so that the child does not lack financial support during the divorce process. Once the divorce process has concluded, the temporary order can then be converted into a permanent order for child support ordered by the court.
What if They Stop Paying Under the Agreement We Have?
If one party has stopped complying with the child support agreement regarding private school tuition payments, the complying parents may need to petition the court for assistance. In most cases, agreements between the parents must be reviewed and approved by the court before they are legally enforceable.
The court may adopt and order the agreement of the parties or it may make revisions or a new order that determines whether or not the non-custodial parents is required to pay for the child’s private school costs.
In addition to courts, the district attorney and enforcement agencies may be able to assist parents in enforcing child support orders. There may be ways to collect overdue payments, such as:
- Seizure of funds from tax returns;
- Wage garnishments; or
- Revocation of licenses.
Can I Modify a Child Support Order Concerning Private School Tuition?
Yes, a child support order concerning child support tuition may be modified. The parties may come to an agreement on the modification. If the parties cannot do so, they may petition the court to modify the child support order.
The court will continue to use the child’s best interest standard when reviewing the information presented by both parties. The court will determine whether a substantial change in circumstances has occurred in order to justify a modification of the child support order for the non-custodial parent.
A substantial change in circumstances includes changes such as:
- Changes in the needs of the child;
- A job change or relocation;
- Safety concerns in the home; or
- Repeated violations of the court order.
When Does the Obligation to Pay Child Support End?
When child support obligations end vary by state and may depend on a child support agreement or a court order. Generally, state laws automatically terminate child support payments when the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school. Some states, however, require payments until the age of 21.
In other states, laws require the parents to contribute to the child’s college education expenses. Some states do not view post-secondary education as a luxury but view it as a requirement. The court will determine whether or not the non-custodial parent must pay these education costs based on similar factors to those noted above for determining whether or not they must pay for private school costs.
If a state does require the parents to contribute to a child’s college expenses as a form of child support, it has usually created procedures to determine how much of those expenses must be paid. College expenses may include things such as:
- Tuition costs;
- Room & board costs;
- Cell phone costs;
- A new computer and related costs;
- Allowances for food and clothing;
- Emergency funds; or
- Costs of transportation.
Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for Help with Private School Cost Issues?
Yes, it is important to hire an experienced child support lawyer for help with private school cost issues. Child support issues can be very complex. They may also require multiple trips to the courthouse.
The ability to show the court why private school tuition costs are important for your child will be of great assistance in obtaining a child support order including those payments. A lawyer will be skilled and knowledgeable regarding child support issues and how to best present them to the court in order to obtain a favorable outcome for you and your child or children.