One of the most difficult situations to deal with for a child is the divorce of their parents. It’s an event that will redefine the lives of all people involved and can naturally cause a lot of stress and uncertainty. This uncertainty and additional stress can transfer over to the school the children are enrolled in. Many schools make a special point to develop a familial relationship with the children and parents of their school and the stress associated with a divorce proceeding can potentially cause complications.
When going through divorce proceedings, there are many things the parents need to arrange that will be directly relevant to the school their child/children attend and it is important for the school to be cognizant of those issues. While the school isn’t always named as a party in the proceedings, decisions made related to the child’s education and support can have a direct impact. As a result, it may be important to keep up to date on the status of pending issues surrounding:
1. Child support liability for tuition,
2. Custody agreements for pick-ups/drop-offs,
3. Custody of academic/medical records, and
4. Emergency contacts as these can all be impacted by the court proceedings.
A good communication strategy can go a long way to addressing the final three items, but the liability for private school tuition is often a point of contention in these sorts of proceedings and can have the most direct impact on a school.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has long held that in some situations, a non-custodial parent can be held responsible for a private school tuition bill as part of an order relating to child support. The school will not be involved in this determination, but it is no less relevant to understand how this impacts the rights of the school if tuition is unpaid or becomes unpaid.
The situation often arises where a non-custodial parent is responsible for private school tuition as a part of child support payments, but it is the custodial parent who actually signed the enrollment contract. It is important to understand, only the signing party to the enrollment contract can be held liable for breaching that agreement. Should the non-custodial parent fail to pay their child support payments, and tuition goes unpaid, the child support order would not allow the school to collect tuition from the non-custodial parent. This is because there is no contractual relationship between the school and the non-custodial parent if he or she did not sign the enrollment contract. This makes the collection process
difficult as the claim against the non-custodial parent is weak and the custodial parent likely believes they are not responsible.
The best way to address this problem, like most legal questions, is to contemplate such an occurrence upfront and plan accordingly. The enrollment contract can be used as a tool to protect the school from this situation arising in the future. An enrollment agreement that aligns with best practices and applicable law will establish behavioral standards and require compliance with handbooks, policies, and codes of conduct. Also, including a broad parental conduct provision, as well as a statement about divorce and custody disputes, can allow the school to define the obligations of the parties should a divorce arise while the child is enrolled with the school.
A requirement for both parents to sign an enrollment contract, for example, would address the above issue. Holding separated parents jointly and severally liable (each liable for the whole amount) would allow the school to seek the tuition from either parent. The parents would then need to sort out who is required to pay, according to the child support order or in conjunction with the family court judge who entered the child support order.
Our firm has experience to help Pennsylvania private schools with the proper collection processes in these instances and more. For more information about the services our firm provides, please contact Matthew Pomy
at any time.
This blog is not a solicitation for business and it is not intended to constitute legal advice on specific matters, create an attorney-client relationship, or be legally binding in any way.