In our previous post, we discussed the payment of extracurricular activities like club sports when parents divorce. In this post, we consider the other part of that family saga – private school education.
In Missouri, courts cannot force parents to send their children to a private school or to fund a private school without parental consent. Rather, Missouri operates on the assumption that children will attend public school unless the parents agree to send their children to private school.
What if one parent desires private school but the other parent opposes? In this situation, if both parents have joint legal custody, the parents must reach an agreement as to the school the child will attend. In the event they cannot agree, they must submit the matter to mediation or ultimately let the court decide. If one parent has sole legal custody, that parent can make the decision but not force the other parent to pay. Most parents will ultimately reach an agreement on attendance at private school, but not the payment of private school. In this situation, the parent in opposition will give consent as long as that parent has no financial responsibility to the tuition. The other parent, or perhaps a grandparent, will cover the cost of private school.
Again, the preferred method for handling private school would be through an agreement where the parents would set out the terms of selecting the school and paying for the school. In this agreement, the parents would address what would happen in the event one parent can no longer afford to pay for private school, as well as to be sure to include both parents in all aspects of the life of the school, from parent-teacher conferences to grades to attending activities. Parents and the courts alike should encourage full participation in the school by both parents regardless of who pays for the schooling.
Some private schools have a religious orientation and include religion in the daily curriculum. Where parents disagree about religion, courts generally stay out of choosing a school because of First Amendment concerns. A court cannot compel a parent to agree to, let alone pay for, private religious schooling against the wishes of that parent. A court cannot decide in what religion a child will be raised.
What if a child has been attending a private school prior to divorce and one parent now opposes the school? In this situation, it is best the parents reach an agreement. If the parent opposing has genuine reasons, even if it has to do with payment, the court cannot ignore these wishes and force the parent to comply without that parent’s consent.
What if private school is the best option for the child’s needs? Here we get into trickier waters. In some situations where children have special needs, courts may decide that keeping a child in a private school environment would be in the best interests of the child. But again, the payment issue usually creates a problem. In rare situations, where the private school is the only option for the child, a parent may be ordered to contribute to that parent’s ability to pay.
If you have questions about private school expense and divorce, contact us – we can help.