Post Divorce Private School ContributionÂ by Alicia Hutchinson, Esq. (Marlton, NJ Office)
Most children in the United States go to public school. I myself am the product of five public schools in two countries and three U.S. States, due to my father having been active duty Air Force throughout my childhood. We are fortunate to have some excellent public schools here in the State of New Jersey. But what is a parent to do when the local public school just isnât the right option for their particular child?
There can be any number of excellent reasons why the local public school is not the best fit for a child. Perhaps the child has been severely bullied at the public school and now a change of educational environments is recommended by their therapist. Perhaps the child is not thriving at the public school because of particular academic gifts that would be better met at a private school. Perhaps the child has medical needs that can be best addressed in a dedicated boarding school. Or perhaps both parents and all their older children have attended the local parochial school, and it has always been the unspoken expectation that this child will also attend.
Schooling is expensive. Private school is no exception, and the costs for a private school can meet or exceed the costs of a year of college. These expenses can be difficult for a custodial parent to meet on their own, yet non-custodial parents may be reluctant to help. Yet private schooling is rarely addressed in Marital or Property Settlement Agreements, particularly when there is no history of older children attending a private school.
That’s okay, you may be thinking. We talked about college contribution when we got divorced and we made a detailed plan of how we were going cover them. Shouldnât the same agreement apply? Itâs all paying for our child’s education after all.
Private school contribution looks a little like college contribution, and people often mistakenly conflate them. It seems reasonable to think that if their co-parent has already agreed to help cover college costs they should also be required to contribute to the costs of the child attending a private school. However, college contribution and private school contribution are not identical under New Jersey law and cannot be conflated with or substituted for each other. An agreement as to college costs does not automatically carry over to private schooling.
Happily for custodial parents who wish to send their child to a private school, the mere failure to address private school contribution at the time of divorce in a Property Settlement or Martial Settlement Agreement does not excuse a non-custodial parent from contributing to the costs of their childâs private schooling. Rather, requests by a custodial parent for a non-custodial parent to contribute to the costs of a child’s private school tuition are governed by twelve principles set forth in case law. These factors include but are not limited to: the ability of the parties to pay for private schooling; whether one or both parents attended the same or a similar private school; whether the child’s educational or special needs would be better met at the private school; and, whether older children also attended the private school. The court may also consider the religious background of the parties, if the school in question is parochial.
If you are considering or are already sending your child to a private school without sufficient financial assistance from your co-parent, call us at 856-227-7888 or e-mail [email protected] for a free consultation.
The above is not specific legal advice nor does it create a lawyer-client relationship. Do not rely upon it without consulting an attorney to see how the information presented fits your unique circumstances.