In a typical New Jersey case a parent cannot be forced by the court, or the other parent, to contribute to the cost of a private school education. However, if the parents combined net incomes are above the child support guidelines cut off contribution to private school costs will usually be ordered.
Parental Incomes Above Child Support Guidelines Cut-Off
The New Jersey child support guidelines only cover situations where the parents combined net incomes are equal to or less than $3600 per week ($187,200 per year). It should be emphasized that the income cut off is a net income cut off, meaning an after-tax, after worksheet deduction, income. If the parents combined net incomes are $3600 per week or less the child support worksheet should be utilized. If the parents combined net incomes are more than $3600 per week the child support guidelines worksheet should be used to calculate the child support at the $3600 per week income number. The court can then fashion other appropriate support, on top of the basic guideline support, for any combined parental income above $3600 per week. It is this other appropriate support on top of the worksheet support that can be used to pay private school expenses. An example may help illustrate the concept.
If Parent A earns $150,000 per year and Parent B earns $180,000 per year, the parents combined gross income is $330,000 per year. Assuming that they pay 1/3rd of their incomes to taxes and other child support worksheet deductions ($110,000) their combined net income is $220,000 – above the $187,200 net income cut-off. These parents are above the child support guidelines. The guidelines support will be paid up to $3600 per week. The court can then use some portion of the $32,800 income above $187,200, ($220,000 – $187,200 = $32,800) to cover private school expenses and other reasonably requested child-related expenses.
Gifted or Special Needs Child
If parents have a gifted or special needs child the court will be more inclined to grant a request for both parents to contribute to the costs of private school (regardless of parental income) if the parent requesting contribution toward private school can show that the public schools do not offer the same or better educational opportunities as a private school. This is because the court’s paramount interest is the child’s best interest.
Change in Economic Circumstances
It should be noted that even if a parent agrees to contribute to private school costs their agreement to pay can be modified by the court if their financial circumstances deteriorate. For example, when the recession hit in 2008 it became very difficult for many parents to continue to pay for their children’s private school educations. As a consequence, numerous motions were filed in the aftermath of the recession requesting reductions or terminations of the obligation to contribute to private school payments. In the cases where there was sufficient proof of a substantial loss of income private school contribution was reduced or terminated.
Private School Provision in Consent Order/Settlement Agreement
If your case is settled via consent order or settlement agreement rather than after a hearing or trial it is important, if you want both parties to contribute to private school, that you have a provision in your agreement which specifically addresses private school, and how its costs will be allocated. An oral agreement will be very difficult, if not impossible, to prove and enforce in court.
If you have any questions about payment of private school expenses, or any other family law related issues, contact me at 201-731-3086 (toll-free at 844-431-3380) or via email using the blog contact form. I have been representing families in New Jersey for over 20 years. My practice operates statewide with a concentration in Bergen, Essex, Passaic, Hudson,Union, and Middlesex counties. Your initial consultation (by phone or email) is free of charge.