When parents decide to get a divorce in California, they almost always want what's best for their children's future, which often includes getting their education at a private school. Parents will rarely object to their child receiving a better quality education. However, California family laws automatically include private school tuition and related expenses as a factor in support calculations.
If you are the primary custodial parent in a divorce, you have a few ways to get these costs included in your child support payments:
- Reach a mutual private school payment agreement with your spouse,
- Seek a court order for a private school payment request.
The most favorable option is always for the parents to reach a mutual agreement about the cost of their child's private school, but financial issues often prevent cooperation. Suppose parents claims they cannot afford private school tuition or are unwilling to agree to the additional expenses?
In that case, the California family court has the discretion to include private school tuition as a reasonable child support expense. However, you must first present valid evidence to support your request.
Our Certified Specialist in Family Law has assisted many people in resolving their child support issues before they are litigated in court. We know how to help divorcing spouses negotiate support arrangements for private schooling. Problems over private school tuition are common in high-asset divorces in California.
We can prepare and present your supporting evidence in the family courtroom if necessary. Our California divorce lawyers will review this topic in greater detail below.
What Costs Does Child Support Cover in California?
California Family Laws have listed child support goals in the Uniform Guidelines 4050-4076. These provisions have child support requirements meeting their basic needs for housing, food, clothing, activities, and other expenses.
These guidelines ensure that a child receives necessary financial support consistent with California's high cost of living. The laws assume a parent who has the majority of responsibility will dedicate a significant amount of their resources to raising their kids. These guidelines include the following:
- The child's best interest is always the top priority;
- A parent's primary obligation is to support their kids based on their circumstances and station in life;
- Both parents have a mutual financial responsibility to their kids;
- Children should share their parent's standard of living;
- The amount of support is based on each parent's income;
- Each parent MUST pay according to their financial ability;
- A family should rely on private financial resources for their kid's needs.
Under California Family Code 4062, the courts have the discretion to issue orders to include additional items, such as:
- Health care costs;
- Travel expenses for visitation;
- Child care cost while one parent is working or going to school; and
- Child's cost for education or special needs.
The discretion given to the family courts allows a parent to receive child support, including the cost of private school tuition and other related expenses. As noted, the parent requesting consideration has the burden to prove the need.
In a California divorce case, child support refers to a parent's financial obligation to help the other parent pay for expenses related to childcare, which can include the child's education. A judge could require one or both parents to pay for private school after a divorce.
Can Private School Tuition Be Included in a Marital Settlement Agreement?
Yes. The best option for a parent to receive money for their kid's private school is to have it included in their California child support order after reaching a mutual agreement with their spouse.
Family courts allow and encourage parents to create their parenting plans without involving the court, including how to pay the costs of private school. If you cannot find common ground and reach a mutual marital settlement agreement, you are forcing a stranger (judge) to make the decisions for you.
The judge has the legal authority to tell one parent, or both, to pay for the private school, but the parent seeking this support must persuade the judge why the child requires private school.
The most common example includes a situation where the custodial parent attempts to prove exactly why the noncustodial parent should be financially responsible for private school tuition and other related expenses. While considering a parent's request, the judge will consider:
- the child's specific educational needs,
- both spouses' incomes, and
- if there were any prior agreements involving the child's education.
Suppose the primary child custodian proves that a private school is necessary for their child? In that case, it might become the responsibility of the noncustodial parent to pay for tuition if they can afford it.
However, family courts can't order a parent to pay for private school if they cannot afford it based on their current income. Thus, the court might order both parents to split the expenses for private school.
Even if your child did attend private school while you were married, if the spouses can't continue to afford a private education after the divorce, then your child might have to adjust to new living standards and attend a public school.
How Can You Present a Case to the Court for Private School Support?
If you cannot persuade your spouse that private school for the kids is necessary through negotiating, then you will have to convince the court to order it.
You have several options on how to make your case. Commonly, your child's teachers and school administrators can help you gather evidence to support your claims that private school education is a requirement, not a choice, such as:
- Stable education – suppose your child was already attending a private school during the marriage? In that case, you could argue that transferring to a public school could negatively impact their education. Further, if they are forced to change schools, they will be permanently separated from their friends, causing a social crisis;
- Financial ability to pay – suppose the other parent easily has the financial ability to pay for private school tuition and additional costs without creating a financial burden? In that case, you could argue your request complies with the child support guidelines;
- Gifted or special needs – in a public school, your gifted or special-needs child will not usually receive the attention required for their learning capacity;
- Religious expectations – If your kids attended a Christian school, it reinforced your principles that won't be taught in a public school.
You might also be able to argue that it could impact their overall education and hurt their college prospects and future career possibilities.
Contact the Divorce Professionals at Furman and Zavatsky
If your divorce settlement agreement or judgment orders your ex-spouse to pay a specific amount for private school tuition in their child support obligation, it becomes illegal if they fail to pay it.
If your ex-spouse stops paying their legal support obligations, you will need to pursue legal action by going to court. They can force them to pay; they could be held in contempt of court, meaning fines and possible jail time. They could also collect the amount owed through wage garnishment.
If private school is the best for your kids, then you could reach an agreement with your spouse to help pay for it. You could present a solid case to the court if you can't.
The California family law court might accept your argument that private school is a genuine and legitimate obligation to your child. Both parents must share their child's support, and the court might require one or both to share the additional costs equally. If you need help, contact us to examine the details of your situation.
The California divorce and family law attorneys at Furman and Zavatsky are based in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County. We offer a free case review at (818) 528-3471 or use the contact form.