A child support order addresses a parent’s financial obligations to the child in cases where the parents are legally separated or divorced. Child support is determined on a case-by-case basis.

It is paid to the parent who retains primary custody of the child, which may vary depending on each case. Support can be used by the custodial parent to pay for the food, shelter, clothing, medical care, educational expenditures and other needs of the child.

While many states have laws providing for child support payment for education, they may not always address whether the non-custodial parent is required to pay for private school costs. Judges have some discretion in how these laws are applied.

If the laws do not address educational costs, a judge may require that the parents split the cost of tuition for private school. Alternatively, they may also order that the non-custodial parent have sole financial responsibility for that expenditure.  

How Does the Court Determine Whether to Order Private School Costs?

If the parents cannot come to a reasonable agreement about the child’s attendance at a private school, the court will intervene.  Sometimes state laws may not address whether the noncustodial parent needs to pay for private school tuition. In such situations, the court will use its discretion in determining whether to make that a part of the child support order.

As with any decision concerning child support, the court will require that the requesting parent show why attendance at a private school is required. In turn, the non-custodial parent may need to show why the opposite case is true.

Before deciding whether to mandate that one or both parents pay for the cost of the private tuition for the child, the court will consider the best interest of the child standard, which may include one or more of the following considerations:

  • Does the non-custodial parent have the ability to pay for the private school costs and for how long;
  • Was the child attending private school before the divorce;
  • If the school is religious, is attending the private school important to maintaining the parents’ religious beliefs;
  • Are there any less expensive schools in the area that can meet the child’s needs adequately;
  • What was the length of the marriage;
  • What are the incomes and debts of the parents;
  • Did the parents attend private school;
  • Does the child have special needs that can only be met by a private school education;
  • What is the level of involvement by the non-custodial parent in the child’s education;
  • Are there other children in the family who already attend private school; and
  • Is there a visitation order in place?

What if They Stop Paying Under the Agreement We Have?

If a the other party has stopped complying with an agreement regarding private school tuition payments, you will need to petition the court for assistance. Agreements between parties are typically reviewed and approved by the court; otherwise they may not be enforceable. The court can review the agreement and adopt it, or it can make a new determination whether or not to order the non-custodial parent to pay for the child’s private school costs.

In addition to the court, the district attorney and enforcement agencies can also assist parents in enforcing child support orders. Efforts to collect from the non-compliant parent might include seizure of tax refunds, wage garnishment, and revocation of licenses.

Can I Modify a Child Support Order Concerning Private School Costs?

You and the other party can agree to modify a child support order regarding the payment of private school costs. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, they can petition the court to modify the child support order. The court will continue to consider the best interest of the child in light of all the information presented. They will determine whether there has been a substantial change in circumstances for the non-custodial parent to justify a modification to the support order.

A substantial change in circumstances can include new developments in the needs of the child, a job change or relocation, evidence of safety concerns in the home, or repeated violation of the court’s order.

When Does the Obligation to Pay Child Support End?

Whether your child support obligations end generally depends on any agreement you have concerning this or whether state laws require continuing support. In general, states laws automatically stop child support after the child becomes 18.

Other states, however, do not see post-secondary education as a luxury and require the parent to continue to contribute to the child’s college educational expenses. The court will determine whether the non-custodial parent will have to continue to pay education costs based on some of the same factors it reviews in determining whether to order payment of private school costs.

Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for Help with Private School Cost Issues?

Child support issues can be highly complicated. Consulting a skilled child support lawyer can help to make sure a child support order reflects your interests.