Paying for Private School After a Divorce

blue border with black letters reading "private school & divorce" with the Freed Marcroft divorce and family law logo in the lower right hand corner in goldYou may wonder “who pays for private school after a divorce?”

Courts want parents to work together to determine what’s in their child’s best interests.  One common major decision is what school their children will attend — including the choice between public school and private school.

But what happens when parents disagree about how much each parent will contribute?  Or when one parent thinks children should transfer out of private school into a public school?

Read on to learn how private school fees and tuition work after a divorce.

Can One Parent Change a Child’s School?

Whether one parent can unilaterally change a child’s school or school district largely depends on custody.  If the parents share joint legal custody, one parent cannot unilaterally enroll or unenroll a child in a school when the other parent objects.  When the parents can’t agree, the next step is to consider filing a post judgment modification of the most recent court-ordered custody and parenting planMediation and collaborative law are also options to support parents in reaching an agreement.

If a parent has sole legal custody over a child and believes a school change is in the child’s best interests, typically that parent can change the child’s school.

Read: How Do Courts Decide Whether a Parent Can Relocate?

Will Courts Order Parents to Pay Private School Tuition?

Connecticut courts have the authority to order parents to pay for private school for their children.  The court decides whether to order payment of private school bills based upon the family’s circumstances, including:

  • Parents’ financial ability to pay
  • Public school availability
  • Schools attended by the children pre-divorce
  • Special needs & general welfare of the children

Thus, whether a court will payment of private school tuition is based on whether it is warranted in a family’s specific situation.

As we mentioned above, when one parent has sole custody, that parent has the right to make educational choices for a child as long as it’s in the child’s best interests.  That does not, however, necessarily mean that the other parent will be required to pay for it if the noncustodial parent “genuinely doubts the value of the program that he is being asked to underwrite.”

Read: Connecticut Child Support Basics

How Do Private School Fees Impact Child Support?

Child support payments are meant to cover a broad range of expenses for the minor child, including the basics — shelter, food, and clothes.   But what about when a child attends private school instead of public school?

The amount of child support calculated under the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines is presumed to be the correct amount.  However, there are circumstances in which a “deviation” from the presumptive amount of support provided by the Guidelines is appropriate.

A deviation occurs when the parents agree between themselves to a lesser or higher amount of child support than is dictated by the formula, or when a Judge decides that the calculation under the Guidelines would be inequitable or inappropriate in a particular case.

When it comes to private or boarding school tuition and fees, the court is permitted to deviate from the presumptive amount of child support if it makes a finding that there are extraordinary education expenses.  If the court makes this finding, it can order the parent that pays child support to pay additional child support to cover a portion of the child’s private school tuition.   

Read: Do We Have to Follow the Connecticut Child Support Guidelines?

How Does Payment Work for Private College and University Tuition and Fees?

The court cannot order a parent to pay college tuition and fees unless it finds that it is more likely than not that, had the family remained intact, the parents would have provided support for a child’s undergraduate college education or private occupational school.  

A college “educational support order” may not exceed the amount charged by the University of Connecticut for a full-time, in-state student at the time the child enters college.  This is often referred to as the “UConn Cap.”  The UConn cap does not prevent parents from agreeing to contribute more to a child’s college expenses.

Read: Who Pays for College After a Divorce?

Next Steps

At Freed Marcroft, we have helped hundreds of people move forward to a better life.  At our first step, the Goals & Planning Conference, we start by working through these questions with you to help you figure out your goals.  If you decide that divorce is part of what you need to do to get you to the future you want, we can help you.  If it isn’t, we will support you and help you figure out what you need to get you there instead.

Let’s keep you moving forward.