Education Costs and Child Support

Long Island’s Best Divorce Lawyer said this was the appeal of an order of the Family Court following a child support proceeding. The Family Court granted Respondent Mother’s (hereafter the Mother) petition for modification of the child support agreement. The underlying facts are as follows.

The Mother and Appellant Father (hereafter the Father) entered into an opting out agreement which obligated the Father to pay child support to the Mother in the amount of $485 per week. However, the agreement did not address each of the parties’ share of the cost of the children’s education. The parties’ child was experiencing difficulties in the public schools and the Mother wished to enroll the child in a private Catholic school. The Father consented, “on the condition that the mother takes full responsibility for payment of the child’s tuition,” which was memorialized in a written, notarized statement. At the end of the school year, the Mother filed the underlying modification petition seeking an order which would “require the Father to pay his pro rata share of the child’s educational expenses.”

A Nassau County Child Support Attorney said that following a hearing, the Family Court found the Father to be obligated to pay 71% of the child’s private school tuition beginning the following school year. The appeal followed. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s decision despite the written agreement of the parties. As stated, the “Family Court ha[d] no jurisdiction to enforce…[the] independent contract.” Because the divorce judgment was silent as to educational expenses, “a court may direct a party to pay such expenses where appropriate and as justice requires, ‘having regard for the circumstances of the case of the case and of the respective parties and in the best interest of the child.”

In making its decision to affirm the Appellate Division noted “that the child’s emotional state significantly improved once he began attending the private school.” The child suffered from several health issues, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and auditory processing disorder. The Appellate Division also noted a journal entry written by the child which read, “I was a kid who was bullied, depressed, and underestimated. But I found a light in the darkness,…I met awesome friends and the nicest teachers I ever encountered. Thank God I found [my new school].” These finds, along with a decrease in the dosage of the child’s anxiety medication following his enrollment at the private school led to the decision that it was in the best interest of the child for the Family Court’s decision to be affirmed.

During a divorce it can be difficult to identify what the circumstances may be like years down the road. The experienced Divorce Attorneys as Simonetti & Associates take pride in assisting their clients anticipate these circumstances and ensuring they are addressed.