Public vs. Private School: Who Decides During A Divorce?

Parents going through a divorce are supposed to work together to make decisions in their children’s best interests.  One of these significant decisions is school placement.  What happens if the parents cannot agree? What if one parent wants the children to attend private school and the other insists on public school?

Does Legal Custody Have An Impact On The School Placement Decision?

Yes.  If the parents share joint legal custody, one parent cannot unilaterally enroll a child in an educational program over the other parent’s objection.  If a parent has sole legal custody over his or her child, generally, that parent can unilaterally enroll a child in an educational program if the parent believes it is in the child’s best interests.

Can A Court Order Me To Pay For My Child’s Private School Tuition?

Yes.  In the 1971 Connecticut Supreme Court case of Cleveland v. Cleveland, 161 Conn. 452, it was determined that the courts in Connecticut could direct one or both parents to pay for private schooling if the circumstances warrant. It is a matter to be determined in the sound discretion of the court on consideration of the totality of the circumstances, including the financial ability of the parties, the availability of public schools, the schools attended by the children before the divorce, and the special needs and general welfare of the children.  Thus, whether a court will order you to pay for your child’s private school tuition will be based on your specific circumstances.

For example, in Hardisty v. Hardisty, 183 Conn. 253, 265 (1981), the court stated: “The right of the custodial parent to make educational choices is, however, an insufficient basis, absent a showing of special need or some other compelling justification, for increasing the support obligation of the noncustodial parent who genuinely doubts the value of the program that he is being asked to underwrite.”

How Does Child Support Relate To Private School Tuition?

The court is permitted to deviate from the presumptive amount of child support if it makes a finding that there are extraordinary education expenses.  If the court makes this finding, it can order the parent that pays child support to pay additional child support, which would cover a portion of the child’s private school tuition.   

Broder Orland Murray & DeMattie LLC, with offices in Westport and Greenwich, CT, concentrate specifically in the areas of family law, matrimonial law, and divorce.  We are experienced in negotiating, litigating, and mediating educational placement disputes while a divorce is pending and post-judgment.  If you anticipate an educational placement dispute, it is crucial to contact an experienced family law attorney right away so you can formulate a strategy to both protect your rights and further your child’s best interests.