By Don Schweitzer
Understandably, the biggest worry on any parent’s mind when filing for divorce is the wellbeing of their children. With many unknowns up in the air, parents want to know that their children will be able to maintain the same quality of life they enjoyed while the parents were a married couple.
In the state of California, there is a child support calculation that comes into play to help the court determine the amount of child support. It is a calculation much too complex to try to compute by hand and is often determined by a computer program used by the court, which factors in variables such as the number of children, time share of the children, filing status, gross wages, mandatory “add-ons” such as health insurance, childcare cost and special needs obligations; and discretionary “add-ons” including costs for education, special needs programs or travel expenses (traveling to/from an out of state parent).
Once the figure is calculated your family law attorney has an opportunity to negotiate additional fees before the child custody amount is locked in. With the San Gabriel Valley being the home to many sought-after private schools, it is no surprise that one of the most common questions I am asked is “Can I request additional financial support to pay for my child’s private school tuition?” As it relates to children without special needs, the answer depends heavily on the agreement of both parties.
If both parties agree to pay for private school and the judge signs it, the amount that includes fees for private tuition is enforceable. In instances where one party disagrees about continuing with private school education, the court will determine the outcome for this “add-on” on a case-by-cases basis. For example, if the child is in his or her junior year of a private high school with one year to go, a judge will most likely order the inclusion of private school tuition fees in the child custody agreement. However, let us say the child has entered the first grade at a private school and one parent is seeking additional support to continue at the school. In most cases this request will be denied as the request of the child continuing in private school is viewed as a personal preference versus a necessity to the child’s overall well-being.
Similar rules apply for college tuition. In California, child custody support will continue up until the child reaches the age of 18 or 19 and if the child is still in high school. The court cannot order child support beyond this statutory period. However, if both parents agree to child support up to the age of 25 for college tuition, for example, then it will be enforced in court.
The bottom line is, while the court may not order additional child support such as private school, college tuition, and extracurricular activities, if both parties agree upon these additional expenses, then a separate agreement can be made. In these instances I would advise parties wanting to enter such an agreement, especially non-modifiable agreements, to do so with caution and careful consideration. It is also imperative that the agreement is written and reviewed by both parties’ legal team because, once it is signed, the parties will be bound by the court’s orders.
Don Schweitzer is founder and partner of The Law Offices of Donald P. Schweitzer, based in Pasadena. As a Certified Family Law Specialist and former District Attorney, he has extensive background in domestic violence, divorce and child custody issues. Prior to becoming an attorney, Mr. Schweitzer was a police officer for approximately 10 years. As a faculty instructor at the National Business Institute, Schweitzer teaches continuing legal education classes on the topic of ethics and advanced courses on family law. He is an active member of the Pasadena Bar Association, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, American Bar Association, and the California State Bar.