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Parent Who Objected to Parochial School Not Required to Contribute Toward Tuition

Catholic school tuition divorce

In the case of LBG v. JPG, mom wanted son to attend private Catholic high school, but dad was not keen on the idea. Dad filed a motion in court to make mom bear the full cost of tuition. Mom opposed the motion and filed her own cross-motion to prohibit dad from making disparaging remarks about parochial schools. The family court granted dad’s motion and denied mom’s. On appeal, the appellate division of the New Jersey Superior Court partly affirmed and partly reversed the family court, sending the case back down for a full hearing.

Background

The couple in this case were married in 1997, had a son in 1999, and divorced in 2005. The property settlement agreement in the divorce gave mom primary custody of the son and sole responsibility for financial support until 2007. This agreement was later amended in 2008, with dad agreeing to pay $490 per week in child support.

The son attended public school until 2012, when he transferred to Catholic middle school to escape bullying. Dad was Catholic himself, and much of his family were products of the parochial school system, but he nevertheless opposed the transfer. So when mom moved to put son into private school, dad’s first reaction was to ask the court to prevent the enrollment, or at least to absolve dad of any obligation to contribute to the cost.

Trial Court Allows Transfer, if Mom Pays

The trial court hearing the motions did not find that the private school had any advantage over the public school, or vice versa. The court therefore denied dad’s motion to stop the transfer, but did grant the motion which would make mom cover all of the tuition. As to mom’s cross-motion, the judge said there wasn’t any evidence that dad had disparaged parochial schools and therefore refused to enter an injunction against him to prevent him from possibly doing so.

Appeals Court Sends Case Back for a Full Hearing

An appeals court normally defers to the conclusions of the trial judge who heard live testimony. Here, however, the court hearing the motion apparently did not hear any live testimony but just decided the case on the briefs submitted by the parties. The appellate court found there were several disputed factual issues which should have been addressed in a full (plenary) hearing, such as whether the parties had an agreement on tuition or not. Also, the trial court failed to apply the 14-factor test set out in Hoefers v. Jones (1994) to decide motions to compel payment of private school tuition.

The appellate court sent the case back down to the trial court for a full hearing. The 14 factors from the Hoefers test are as follows:

  1. Ability of non-custodial parent to pay.
  2. Past attendance of one or both parents at that or a similar private school.
  3. Whether children were attending private school pre- or post-divorce.
  4. Prior agreement of non-custodial parent to pay to send children to private school.
  5. Religious background of the parties and their children.
  6. Are special educational, psychological and/or special needs of child met or advanced by such private schooling?
  7. Generally, is it in the child’s best interest to attend, or to continue to attend, private school (is the academic environment in child’s best interest)?
  8. Whether a court order or agreement of the parties prefers a specific right of school choice on the residential custodial parent.
  9. Were the actions of the residential custodial parent to enroll or to continue to enroll the child reasonable under the circumstances?
  10. Is such private school tuition permitted or authorized as part of the state’s child support guidelines, or by other law(s)?
  11. Ability of child to respond, prosper from this educational experience; will such schooling be of particular benefit to him or her?
  12. Lack of present or past non-custodial parental involvement in the child’s education.
  13. Degree of involvement of the custodial parent in the child’s education (is it extensive?).
  14. Are the residential custodial parent’s views and desires consistent with past practices regarding private school education?
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