Do both parents have to pay for private school after separation and divorce?
by Kim Stepanuk
In Maryland, child support is calculated in most cases using a formula called the Maryland Child Support Guidelines. “The Guidelines” considers the number of children in the family, each parent’s income, any alimony paid or received, the current custody and access schedule including number of overnights each parent has with the children, and the amount that each parent pays for “below the line” expenses such as health insurance premiums, extraordinary medical expenses, and work-related child care expenses for the children, the amount of child support calculated by using the Maryland Child Support Guideline worksheet is presumed to be correct. There are very few reasons for which a judge or family division magistrate will deviate from the presumptively correct amount of support to be paid at a trial as indicated in the Guidelines.
But what about the costs of tuition for your child or children’s attendance at a special or private school?
Are parents in Maryland obligated to share in the expenses of private school tuition and costs? Maybe.
Attorneys at MLO/Mulinazzi Law Office deal with this situation often as a pendente lite matter and as an issue at the final divorce hearing. The outcome will depend on the specific facts of your family’s situation and an experienced divorce/custody attorney can help you create some options that work for your family.
If the case must go to trial, Maryland Law states that “[b]y agreement of the parties or by order of court . . . any expenses for attending a special or private elementary or secondary school to meet the particular educational needs of the child” may be divided between the parents. But what happens if your child or children are attending a special or private elementary or secondary school for reasons other than particularized educational needs but it would be in the child or children’s best interest to continue attending that special or private school? In determining whether a child or children’s attendance at the special or private school should continue and how the costs of such attendance will be paid, the trial judge or family division magistrate will consider the following factors:
- The child or children’s educational history and how many years the child or children have attended the particular school;
- This comes up most often. If a child has attended the school for a few years, it is unlikely that the Court will agree that they child should have to enroll elsewhere. The Court looks to do what is in the best interests of the child and a child experiencing divorce does not need even more changes in his life.
- The parents’ ability to pay for the school.
- The child or children’s performance while in the special or private school;
- The family’s history of the child or children attending private versus public school and, specifically, whether the family has a tradition of attending a particular school;
- The Court will want to know if the child’s siblings went to the private school and if so why is it far to the younger child that she cannot go.
- Whether the parents had chosen to send the child or children to a particular school prior to the court filings;
- Again, this factor goes to the concept of decreasing change for the child.
- Does the child have any special needs that can only be met at the private/special school;
- This could be special education needs, G/T related, religious based education, etc.
- Any other factors impacting the child or children’s best interests; and
- This might include the quality of the local public schools in each of the parent’s district, how far away are each of the schools, are there an extra-curricular activities or sports offered at one school versus the other that has special significance to the child;
If parents cannot agree on whether a child will attend or continue to attend a special or private school, or if they cannot agree on how the costs of the special or private school will be paid, the issue becomes quite complicated and you could end up paying for the entire cost yourself after you’ve already signed the tuition contract. Often the perspective of one Judge or one County Court can differ from another Judge or differ from most Judges in other Counties. Please consult with your attorney to determine the best course of action and to obtain more information on how the issue of special or private school attendance and the costs will be addressed in your case.