Public vs. Private School Decisions for Divorced Families

Dana McKeeBy Dana McKee

All parents want to make the best decisions for their child, including whether to provide them with a public or private education.  The discussion of whether to send a child to private school is common among parents in the Baltimore metropolitan area, where there are ample private school options.  While there are many factors that impact the decision to send a child to private school, such as academic reputation, class size, safety, and religious instruction, the cost of a private education undoubtedly plays a big role.

Unfortunately, divorce can lead to financial hardship for many families.  The economic strain of supporting two separate households while also incurring legal fees often encourages parents to cut certain expenses.  For some parents, this means withdrawing their child from private school.  For others, it is important to continue their child’s private education to provide them with stability during a difficult time period.  The family law attorneys at Brown, Goldstein & Levy are experienced in addressing the educational needs of our client’s children in divorce proceedings.  We have represented parents in Canton, Federal Hill, Guilford, Mount Vernon, and Roland Park, as well as other neighborhoods in Baltimore City, in addition to parents in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Howard County, Frederick County, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County.

Does court ordered child support include the cost of private school?

In Maryland, both parents have a legal responsibility to financially support their minor child.  The obligation to pay child support continues until the child reaches eighteen years of age, unless the child is still in high school, in which case the obligation continues until the child graduates from high school or reaches nineteen years of age, whichever first occurs.  The courts calculate the amount of child support due by each parent using a formula known as the Maryland Child Support Guidelines.  Typically, the Guidelines do not consider the cost of private school.  But there are some exceptions to this general rule.  Maryland law provides that, by agreement of the parties or by order of the court, “any expenses for attending a special or private elementary or secondary school to meet the particular educational needs of the child” may be divided between the parents in proportion to their respective incomes.

Are parents required to pay for private school when their child does not have a particular educational need to attend?

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has held that parents may be ordered to pay for private school even in cases where the child does not have special educational needs.  When determining whether remaining in private school is in the child’s best interest, Maryland courts will look to a number of factors including:

  1. The child’s educational history;
  2. The child’s performance while in private school;
  3. Whether there is a family history of private school;
  4. When the parents chose to send their child to private school;
  5. Any factor impacting the child’s best interest; and
  6. The parents’ ability to pay for a private school education.

Which parent selects the private school the child will attend?

The parent with legal custody of the child has the right to make decisions regarding the child’s education.  When parents have joint legal custody, they must agree on such decisions, including which private school the child will attend.

Do parents need to live in the same school district if their child is going to attend public school?

If you decide to enroll your child in public school, you do not need to live in the same school district as your ex.  During a divorce or custody proceeding, the court may select one parent’s address to be the primary residence of the child.  The child will be eligible to attend the zoned school of their primary residence; however, in some school districts, eligibility is not limited to those parents that are awarded primary physical custody.  Often, parents negotiate who is awarded primary residence to ensure that the minor child can attend a better school in a higher-ranked school district.

Whether you are seeking to continue your child’s private school education or can no longer pay the cost of private school tuition, the family law attorneys at Brown, Goldstein & Levy can help strategize how to best address your child’s education needs in your divorce or custody matter.  Please contact Dana McKee at 410-962-1030 to schedule a consultation.

Authored by

Dana McKee Partner