Private School v. Public School. Religious school v. Prep School. Choices, choices, choices. We all want the best for our children and want them to succeed but in the back of our mind is the big question: COST. This becomes infinitely more difficult when parents of a child are sharing custody. Recently a client called me panic stricken. His child is entering Kindergarten next year, and we had just finalized an eight-month long battle that ultimately gave him shared custody of his daughter. He called me to tell me that the mother of the child had just signed the contract for a very expensive private school and that she was pressuring him to sign the contract also- obligating him for half the cost. What should he do? Should he sign the contract? As part of the recent custody agreement, he had just increased his child support due to a daycare expense. He was excitedly looking forward to getting rid of that cost come fall when his daughter would no longer be in daycare…now would he have to face a huge tuition bill for a school he had not agreed to send his daughter?
The answer is: No. He is not obligated to pay private school tuition to a school that he does not want to pay tuition towards. The mother was set on this institution and would not consider the excellent public schools in the area or any other less expensive parochial or private schools. That is not my client’s problem. Does he want the best for his child? Of course. But at what cost. Should he make himself “school poor” and be unable to afford the necessities of caring for his daughter? He may always have statutorily imposed child support, but that does not include private school tuition. His ultimate decision was to allow the child to attend the school as long as the mother agreed to pay the tuition. He was also successful in advocating for financial aid for his daughter so that the tuition bill at least for next year would not be so insurmountable. It’s not that he doesn’t want to see his child succeed educationally, it’s that he would like to be able to give her other opportunities to explore this world without the debt of a private school tuition and thankfully Maryland Child Support Guidelines agree.