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  • Writer's pictureJarbath Peña Law Group PA

Everything You Should Probably Know About Back to School and Your Custody Case

Updated: Sep 26, 2021

The back-to-school season can be a tumultuous and trying time. Getting your child everything they need for a successful school year can be a daunting and expensive task. Getting your child ready for the start of the school year is taxing during “normal” years, and it’s even more challenging in the midst of a pandemic. Now, if you throw being in the middle of a child custody case into the mix—it can all seem a bit overwhelming.

At such times, the usual frustrations are augmented by questions about who pays certain expenses and who makes certain decisions about the location and type of school your child attends. We at Jarbath Peña Law Group have helped our clients navigate these hurdles for years, and we are always here to help with practical advice on the most common questions that are presented during this time of year.

Answers to Common Questions Regarding Back-to-School and Your Custody Case

What School Will My Child Attend?

Where minor children attend school is often a source of contention during the divorce process, as it can be a complicated question. In the best-case scenario, parents will work out an agreement regarding which school their child(ren) will attend. This includes the question of public vs. private school, as well as which specific school within those larger categories they will attend. It is always the best and first course of action for parents to sit down together, discuss these issues,and make a decision that is in the best interest of the child. But as is so often the case, parents can disagree. If they cannot seem to come to an agreement, then the determination is left up to a divorce court judge.

Public vs. Private

To decide whether a couple’s child should go to public or private school, the judge considers a number of factors. Those factors may include:

● The parents’ ability to pay for private school;

● If the child has been going to a private school in the past;

● If the child has special needs that are better met in a private school;

● The religious background of the family if the private school is religion based; and

● Any prior agreements between the parents regarding private school.

If the court decides that private school would be in the child’s best interest, then the court can order that the parents pay the private school tuition and include it in the child support calculations.

Specific School District or Location

After the question of public vs. private school is answered, the next question is usually, Which public or private school will they go to? If public school is chosen, which one? The one closest to mom or dad?

As previously stated, parents are encouraged to come to a mutual agreement. But, if necessary, the court will step in to make this determination. As always, the judge in a divorce case prioritizes the best interest of the child above all other factors. In general, there is a preference for keeping the child in the school district to which they are accustomed. However, other factors may come into play. These factors could include:

● Whether one parent lives in a district with higher-rated or safer schools;

● Which parent always has custody of the child during the school week if timesharing isn’t divided equally;

● The child’s stated preference;

● Whether or not the child is happy with the teachers and peers at their current school;

● The child’s educations needs, especially if the child has special needs;

● The quality of the curriculum, teachers, and staff at their current school, and all optional schools;

● The child’s current school performance and extracurricular activities; and

● Whether or not it would be damaging to the child’s overall development to have to go to a new school.

A judge weighs these factors and more in making school determinations. Again, the rule of thumb is overwhelmingly what is best for the child.

Who Will Pay for Back-to-School Expenses?

These expenses should be considered while calculating a child support settlement. The Florida Child Support Guidelines determine each parents’ amount of child support based on factors such as:

● The income of each parent;

● The number of children in the household;

● The number of overnight stays with each parent per month; and

● The children’s educational, medical, psychological, and dental needs.

Back to school and any other educational expenses should be included in the child support arrangement. If for any reason it was not addressed in your support order, you should address the issue with your co-parent. Hopefully, you can agree on how to share these expenses. If not, you may want to speak with an attorney about possibly modifying child support. This issue alone may not be enough to ask for a modification, but an experienced attorney can assess your case and determine if there are other factors that may cumulatively justify such a request.

Do I Have to Pay for My Child’s College Expenses?

No. According to Florida Statute §61.30, child support ends when the child graduates from high school or turns 18. If the child still hasn’t graduated high school by the time they turn 19, then child support remains in place. In either case, once a child graduates high school, neither parent is legally obligated to pay any further expenses for the child. This includes college tuition and related expenses. That being said, many parents feel a moral obligation and desire to pay for their child’s college expenses and are welcome and encouraged to do so.

What Happens to My Child’s Prepaid College Plan?

That depends on the type of plan you have. Obviously, if both parents agree, keeping the prepaid college plan in place and allowing the child to use it for tuition is ideal for all parties. However, in the case where one or both parents want to cash in the prepaid plan, there are two options.

If it’s a Florida Prepaid College Plan, the plan will have only one account owner. If the plan was purchased after February 1, 2009, then the owner must have the consent of a listed survivor before they may cash out the plan.

If it’s a college savings plan, then both parents likely have joint control over the plan. In a divorce, these types of plans are considered a marital asset. Therefore, the plan should be part of the equitable distribution of assets during a divorce settlement. If your divore is final, your final order of dissolution should contain information regarding how the plan was split. That decision is typically final.

We Have the Experience You Need

When you have questions regarding any aspect of your custody plan, you need an experienced counselor like those at The Jarbath Peña Law Group. We can help answer all of your child custody questions and the concerns. We proudly serve Coral Gables and the surrounding Miami area. We can assist you with all of your divorce, child custody, and child support needs. If you have questions, we have the answers. So call today at 305-615-1005, or contact us through our online contact form. We look forward to serving you!

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