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Can I Be Forced to Pay for Private School in a New Jersey Child Support Order?

Chances are that long before you and your spouse decided to divorce, you were planning for your child’s future. That includes his or her education. In New Jersey, child support orders can and frequently do take into consideration the educational needs and expenses of children – from day care and preschool to university.

The goal will always be what is in the best interests of the child, accounting for the lifestyle to which the children were accustomed and the ability of each parent to pay.

It’s important for parents to meticulously outline their own income and the costs related to their kids’ education when supplying information to the court for a child support order.

Private School is an “Extraordinary Expense”

A child’s educational expenses can vary widely, depending on the school, location, aid, scholarships, extracurriculars, etc. What comes as a surprise to some parents is that they can absolutely be responsible to pay to support their children’s private school and college education costs.

New Jersey child support guidelines help calculate the minimum amount of support a child will need, based on their age, their parent’s income and other factors. However, these guidelines are mostly used for tabulating “ordinary expenses.” These are the basics like food, shelter, clothing, health insurance and some extracurricular and entertainment.

Child support orders can deviate from the basics under certain circumstances. This would include things like the very high or low income of one or both parents, a child who has special needs or is gifted, a parent owing support to more than one family or substantiated obligations for care of an elder or disabled family member.

Orders can also deviate to allow for private school tuition, which is considered an “extraordinary expense.” In general, it’s presumed that children will receive a free, public school education (at least for grades 1-12). However, the case for coverage of private school tuition could be made with evidence of:

  • A child’s academic record;
  • Sub-par quality of local public or less expensive schools;
  • Superior quality of private school education;
  • The child’s history of success in the private school environment.

The child’s best interests will always be the No. 1 consideration for the court.

The Court May Compel You to Pay

You may be asked to explain your choice, particularly if it changed from the status quo. For example, if you are the supporting parent and agreed to pay for private school prior to the divorce, the court may ask you to explain why you changed your mind. If you are the custodial parent and were apparently fine with the local public school before the divorce and now are seeking enrollment in an expensive private school, the court will want you to explain why that is reasonable.

Bullying, in some cases, has been cited as a reason to disrupt the status quo. That’s what was argued in the 2015 case of L.B.G. v. J.P.G. In that case, the couple’s only son had attended public school for the entirety of his elementary school education, but his custodial parent (mother) switched him to a private parochial school in middle school because of excessive bullying. The father, despite being Catholic himself, opposed this transfer, while the wife sought to have him cover half the expenses. She argued he had made more friends, was getting good grades and was able to participate in more afterschool activities. The trial court denied the father’s motion to stop the mother from keeping the boy enrolled but ordered her to cover the entirety of the costs. The mother appealed, arguing she could not burden the full costs. The appellate court agreed. The trial court had concluded parochial school was in the boy’s best interests but had failed to acknowledge or address the father’s obligation to support the child’s best interests. Therefore, the appellate court reversed.

It’s impossible to say how a court will decide in any give case, but our experienced Freehold child support lawyers are committed to helping you be as prepared as possible to seek the outcome you desire and argue for what’s in the best interests of your children.

Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today at (732) 810-0034 for a free and confidential consultation.

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