This time of year parents are often planning for school for next year. If the child is in public school and he/she is remaining in the same school there usually are no issues to be discussed. If however, one or both of the parents are considering private school certain issues may arise. What school will we enroll the child in? Who will pay for the expense? Is private school even to be considered? If so, will it be religiously based? These are some of the questions which often need to be addressed.
If the parties have already entered into a Marital Settlement Agreement and Parenting Plan, and there is a provision which states that the minor child(ren) will attend private school; then the parties were wise enough to plan ahead and resolve the issue before it became a topic of litigation. Of course, there still may be the question of which school will they attend? Often times it depends on cost, distance from home and obviously the school’s reputation. It would seem that parents, even divorced parents, could decide what is best for their children. Of course, this is not always true.
If private school was not originally agreed to, then an agreement must be worked out between the parties. Private school is not a right, but rather it is a privilege. There are public schools that will provide an education free of charge. In most instances, a parent cannot be forced to pay for private school. If however certain conditions exist, the Courts could rule otherwise. For example; if a child has been attending a private school for many years then a judge may not want to disturb the child’s education. Of course, this is very much contingent upon the affordability of private school as well as the parent’s ability to contribute. If one of the parents does not have the financial means to pay than the other parent could certainly agree to pay 100% of the costs. This, however, will not be considered a substitute for a child support obligation.
The other issue is whether there is a necessity for a private school. Many children have special needs due to learning disabilities or perhaps ADHD. The public schools often do not have the resources to provide for these children. Private schools may be the only answer to ensure that they receive the care and education they require. What if one of the parents refuses to enroll the child in a private school and the other parent cannot afford it? Will the courts put the child’s needs first? The law says that in certain cases a judge can order a parent to pay for a private school, even if he/she objects. This will only occur if it can be proven that the public school system cannot accommodate the child and the refusing parent has the financial means to contribute. If it is too great a hardship the court’s hands may be tied.
Based on Florida’s “Shared Responsibility” laws, decisions about the school should be a joint decision. Neither parent should take it upon himself/herself to decide without discussion. As in most instances, a few minutes of constructive dialogue can save hours of litigation.
- The law firm of Evan H. Baron and Associates is located at 1655 North Commerce Parkway, Suite 201, in Weston. If you have any questions concerning this issue or any other family law matter, call the office at 954-385-9160.