Does Child Support Cover Private School Tuition?

Hossein Berenji, Mar 20, 2017

Child support often required by California courts to ensure divorced or separated parents properly and adequately provide for their children. Court-ordered financial support is intended to cover the basic costs to care for and raise a child. Costs that are typically associated with child support include housing, food, and clothing.

However, other costs that are relevant and necessary to a child’s upbringing may also be required to be covered – at least partially – by child support payments. This is especially true if a child of divorce was accustomed to certain privileges before the separation. Many payors of child support often wonder if certain expenses, such as the cost of attending private school, are legitimate and necessary. The answer is a question of fact that often requires a judge to balance many factors.

Parental Dispute Over Private School Costs

If divorced or separated parents are in agreement about sending their child to private school, chances are they may agree to find a solution to paying tuition. A problem often arises when one parent wants to send their child to private school and the other objects. The parent who wants to send the child to private school may ask the parent with financial support obligations to shoulder the costs of tuition and related expenses. If this is the case, the payer of child support may shirk responsibility or try to have a court declare the costs as above and beyond what child support covers.

Separated or divorced parents who disagree about private school tuition– and the extent to which child support covers the costs – may require the intervention of a court. In these cases, parents may petition the court for a ruling and adjustment of child support. Education has been found to be a relevant factor that courts may consider in awarding child support.

Determining if Tuition is an Appropriate Allocation of Child Support

Courts are granted authority and discretion to increase child support and require noncustodial parents to pay for private school tuition. However, this mandate may be for a portion of tuition. If that is the case, the custodial parent may be required to foot the bill for the difference. The fact that the parent who is required to pay child support does not agree that their child should attend private school is not the deciding factor. Rather, it is a factor to be considered by the court when it weighs and balances relevant information.

Courts will determine if child support should be increased to include the costs associated with private school attendance by balancing the following factors:

  • The specific educational needs of the child;
  • The income(s) of both parents;
  • Agreements relevant to the child’s education upon divorce or separation;
  • The child’s previous education history;
  • The religious background of the child and/or family; and
  • The extent to which the noncustodial parent was involved in the child’s education prior to the divorce or separation.

In the wake of a divorce, children are expected to maintain the standard of living to which they were accustomed before their parents separated. If a child attended private school before the divorce or separation, a court will likely find that child support should, at least in part, cover the cost(s) associated with attendance.

Similarly, if a child has a specific and documented need that cannot be adequately addressed by public school, a court may find that it is in the best interest of the child to attend a private school. If a noncustodial parent is contesting the costs of private school tuition, but was never really involved in educational decisions prior to the divorce or separation, a court may find that the unwillingness to pay for tuition is less about the child and more about the ex-spouse.

Child Support Allocation is a Balancing Act

Courts will review information provided by each ex-spouse and make a determination based on what it believes is in the best interest of the child. It will also consider the financial ability of the separated parents. If the noncustodial parent cannot reasonably afford the full cost of tuition, the court may strike a balance and require each parent to pay a certain percentage of the expenses.

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about child support and what expenses it may or may not cover, contact an experienced California child support attorney today.