One of the many decisions addressed by a Parenting Plan when parents divorce is where the children will go to school. In Missouri, family courts assume children will attend public schools unless there is a particular or specific educational need of the child that the public schools cannot meet or unless the parents agree to send them to private schools instead.

What happens when one parent wants their child to attend private school, but the other does not? The answer is different depending on whether you are in the divorce stage or in the modification stage of the legal process.

Private School During Initial Divorce

In a divorce, there is no bright line rule for when a court will order that a child can be permitted to remain enrolled at their private school after a divorce when parents are not in agreement.  In Missouri, courts are given wide discretion in making that decision and are fact-specific to each family.

There have been some Missouri appellate opinions which have permitted court ordered private school which do provide some guidance. Some examples have been when the private school is safer than the public school the child would attend, when the child had special learning needs and the public school was not able to meet those needs, and when the public school did not have air conditioning and the child had severe asthma which was exacerbated without air conditioning.

Historical parental agreements for older siblings who attended private school are also factors the court will consider. Additionally, the Court will also consider the ability of the parents to afford private school costs.

Private School During Subsequent Modification of the Divorce

If one parent has sole legal custody, then it is their decision to make, even if the child’s other parent objects. However, in that circumstance, they cannot force their ex to help pay for private school if it was not court ordered or agreed to in the original parenting plan.

If parents share joint legal custody and do not agree on continued private school attendance, the issue becomes more thorny. Courts will modify parenting plans when there is a substantial and continuing change in circumstances.  Those changes in circumstances can include a request for a parent to make the final decision for private school.  Those changes can also request a parent to contribute to costs of private school or can request that a parent to stop contributing to the costs of private school.

Modifying a parenting plan for private school attendance and/or private school costs can be complicated.  Every family’s circumstances are different and unique and require a skilled attorney to navigate.  Contact the attorneys at Jones Family Law Group, LLC for a consultation to discuss your private school issues.