Child Support

Father Ordered to Contribute to the Cost of Parochial School as Part of Child Support Order

In the family law, child support appellate case of Spone v. Spone, PICS Case No. 14-1577 (Pa. Super. Oct. 1, 2014) the Honorable Paula Francisco Ott, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, ruled that the trial court did not err in ordering father to contribute to the cost of his children’s parochial education where father did not explicitly object to his children attending parochial school or present evidence that the children would benefit more from attending public school.

The parties were the parents of two minor children. Father appealed from a support order and supplemental support order, both entered on March 20, 2013, which awarded child support to mother. He argued that the trial court erred by denying that he properly objected to the children’s attendance at a parochial school.

Father argued that there was no evidence presented of a comparison between the public and parochial schools available because that was not the source of contention at the subject hearing. Rather, according to father, the issue was the parties’ joint availability to pay for the children’s education. Father claimed that he raised this issue during closing arguments at the hearing.

Under Pa.R.Civ.P. 1910-6(d), a trial court may direct a parent-obligator to contribute to private school tuition if it is a “reasonable need.” Thus, the Superior Court should uphold a decision to order private school contribution so long as the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the child will benefit and that private schooling is consistent with the family’s prior standard of living and station in life.

Here, the Superior Court agreed with the trial court that father never explicitly raised an objection to his children attending parochial school based upon exemplary public schools near the children’s residence. Moreover, he did not present evidence that the children would benefit more from the public schools, the court observed.

Rather, during closing arguments, father’s counsel argued that mother could not make father pay $5,000 toward parochial education because the children lived with her and she was making unilateral decisions. Counsel made statements during closing argument that mother lived in a very good school district, that father was not a bank and that father could not afford certain expenses.

Counsel’s statements during closing argument merely amounted to a contention that the children’s attendance at a public school would alleviate some of the financial contribution for mother, the court observed. Father never objected that private schooling was not reasonable based upon the fact that it did not benefit the children or was not consistent with the family’s prior standard of living.

The court also noted that in determining that private school was reasonable, the trial court considered the income of both parties and the fact that both children had attended parochial school since kindergarten. Father failed to present any evidence that his obligation to pay for parochial school was unreasonable or that he would suffer some kind of hardship as a result.

Other than mere allegations, father failed to present any evidence that the children’s parochial education was unreasonable. Moreover, he failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that a material and substantial change had occurred in which he could no longer meet his obligation regarding his children’s schooling. As such, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s order in part.

Reference: Digest of Weekly Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly 37 PLW 986 (October 14, 2014)

Filed Under: Child Support, Family Law, Parochial School, Private School

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