People get married, and they make plans. They make decisions about how to raise their kids, about what’s important, and about what they can afford for themselves and their children. It is not uncommon, particularly in the St. Louis area, for parents to send their children to private schools – whether those schools are parochial schools or independent, private institutions.
When couples separate and proceed down a path toward divorce, those plans often must change. If a couple made a decision to send their child or children to private school, they did so (hopefully) because they believed that was what would be best for their children. That doesn’t usually change just because of divorce. In fact, the more stability children can have when having to deal with the trauma of their family splitting up, the better it usually is for them. Unfortunately, economic realities change the decision-making process. A couple may no longer be able to afford private school for their children, particularly if they are now running two households on the same income that was used to run just one household. What happens when one parent wants to keep sending the children to private school, and the other parent doesn’t want to pay for it?
Courts in Missouri will generally not require a parent to continue to pay for private school, unless the court believes that the child’s need to attend private school is compelling enough to justify ordering a parent to pay for private school even if that parent doesn’t want to do so. The need must be more compelling than the normal disruption a child goes through when he or she has to change schools (leaving old friends, getting new teachers, new counselors, etc.). For example, if a child has special needs and the school has special programs that fit those needs, a court might require the parties to continue to send your child to that school, even if one spouse doesn’t want to pay for it. However, regardless of the need, a court will not require parents to send children to private school if they can’t afford it. There must be enough disposable income to justify paying for private school. In addition, even if a parent can afford to send their children to private school, if the child doesn’t have a compelling need which justifies private school, courts will not usually require a parent to pay for it.
If you are the spouse who wants to keep your child in private school, you probably think this is horribly unfair to the child. You think, “my spouse always paid for private school, and always said he (she) would take care of it, no matter what. Why should he (she) get away with this now?” Unfortunately for you, courts in Missouri view private school as a privilege, not something to be ordered by the divorce court. If you want to keep sending your child to private school, and your spouse doesn’t want to pay for it, you are likely to have to figure out how to pay for it yourself.