Couples in the process of divorcing often say that the list of disagreements to resolve seems like it never ends. Some couples wage war on each other over every little thing… but you’d assume that one thing they should agree on is what’s best for their kids, right?
Custody battles are among the most frightening and traumatic aspects of divorce proceedings, for adults and kids alike. But when it comes to hashing out matters of the children, there’s one conflict that can get surprisingly ugly: deciding whether the kids will attend public or private school.
Choosing Between Public And Private School
There are a number of reasons a parent might prefer that his or her child attend private school instead of public school. One major reason is to foster a religious identification. As many private schools are affiliated with a particular religion or church, a parent might choose a religious private school if he or she prefers that the child’s education incorporate their religious beliefs.
Additionally, there may be a historical precedent for attendance of private school. It may be a family tradition to go to a certain school, and perhaps a parent and/or older children already attended. In this case, there could be an expectation that a younger child follows suit.
Academic strengths are another commonly cited reason to opt for a private education. A child could have academic gifts that would be better addressed at a private school, or specific talents and interests (such as music, computers, etc.) for which public schools do not offer corresponding programs. A private school may be able to address specific, documented educational needs that public schools can’t adequately attend to, due to factors such as larger class sizes. Finally, there is a deeply-rooted belief in some circles that a private school education confers an academic advantage, and the academic reputation of a private school could tip the scale in its favor for a parent who wants the best for their child.
There may be simpler reasons to choose to send your child to private school. Maybe your child has been bullied at public school and will benefit from a change in environment to get a fresh start and ultimately thrive. If the public school in your district is in an unsafe area due to crime or traffic, you may simply feel greater peace of mind if your child goes to school in a different neighborhood. Maybe the public schools in your district are low performers, and you want your kid to be challenged at school.
The Case For Public Schooling
That said, there are several compelling reasons to choose public school. The first, and most obvious, is the cost—public schools are funded by your tax dollars, whether you send your kid to them or not. Transportation to and from school might be more straightforward at a public school, as they often arrange buses (and private schools often don’t). Finally, if your child has special education needs, a public school may be the best choice for you. Public school districts are required by federal law to provide special education programs. Private schools are not, and rarely provide such programs.
When Your Ex Wants The Kids In Public School And You Don’t
When parents share joint custody, they have to come to an agreement on where the child will attend school. If they can’t agree, they will have to present their cases to the court, and a judge will decide.
Private School Might Just Be Too Expensive
The decision to send a child to private school has a significant financial impact—tuition is sometimes even higher than college!—that often requires sacrifices even for intact families. For divorced parents who shoulder the costs of maintaining two households, private school tuition may be prohibitively expensive.
Can You Force Your Ex To Pay For Private School Tuition?
Unless your divorce decree specifically addresses payment for private school, you can’t require your ex to contribute toward tuition. If your divorce decree does not include a provision for payment of educational expenses, you may have to go back to court to seek a modification of the decree.
The court could then mandate an increase in child support to allow for the costs of private school tuition, based on the following factors:
- Each parent’s income
- The child’s educational needs
- The family’s religious background
- The child’s previous educational history: as courts expect the child’s previous standard of living to be maintained following divorce, the court may mandate that the child continue in private school if he or she has previously attended private school
Overall, the court’s goal is to act in the best interest of the child. Whereas it might seem that both parents should always want what’s best for the child, the truth is that it’s common for parents to disagree on what the child’s best interest looks like. It might depend on the parents’ individual circumstances, and even the child’s changing needs as they start to grow up.
The #1 Tip For Parents Who Disagree About Schooling
Compromise is generally the last thing a divorced couple wants to do, but it pays to accommodate each other’s needs when it comes to co-parenting. If you and your ex-spouse disagree over whether your child should attend public or private school, your first priority should be keeping your dispute out of the courthouse. To that end, it’s important to examine why you have chosen your position.
Author Deesha Philyaw offers three questions you should ask yourself to determine if you’re acting in your child’s best interest or your own. They are:
- Is your opinion rooted in fear, sadness, disappointment, or revenge?
- If you were still happily married, would you have this opinion?
- Will your opinion compromise the relationship between your ex and your child, or inflict financial hardship?
Litigation comes at a high cost—it takes a toll on your time, money, and oftentimes, sanity. As with all family law disputes, it’s best for all parties involved if you can resolve your differences out of court. If you and your ex can come to a civil resolution of your differences, that’s extra money on the bank that you would otherwise have spent on legal fees. Why not spend that money on something for your child, instead?