In a recent divorce case in Oakland County, Michigan, the question came up regarding the effect of payment for tuition at the private school, Brother Rice in Bloomfield, Michigan on child support and spousal support.  There was also an issue regarding payment for the child’s participation in that school’s renowned athletics programs.

The Issue       

If one party pays for the child’s educational expenses and extracurricular activities, should this affect the amount of child support?  What about additional educational expenses for a child with special needs?

The Answer

 In the case of Mansour v Mansour, an unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals Case, Docket No. 295717, decided April 26, 2011, the court discussed the issue of payment for a child’s educational expenses and the impact on child support.  In that case, as part of the child support, the divorce court ordered the father to pay approximately $18,000 per year for the children’s tuition at a private school.

The father appealed and claimed that the court did not have the authority to order him to pay for his children’s school tuition.  The Court of Appeals specifically found that it is clear that tuition expenses are one of the many factors that a court may consider in crafting a child support award.  The court however went on to say that the trial court failed to make a determination as to whether the father could actually pay that portion of the support award.

The idea that the court may order a parent to pay for a child’s private school tuition seems to be well based in statute, case law, and the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual.  The definition of support, found at MCL 552.602(ee) includes payment of the expenses of medical, dental and other health care, child care expenses and educational expenses.  The Manual indicates in Section 1.04(E) that the court may deviate from the child support formula (either to require a larger amount of support or a smaller amount of support) when the child has special needs or the child has extraordinary education expenses.

There are also previous cases which indicate that both parents must be responsible for the payment of such tuition and books on behalf of a child.  This also seems to indicate that the court may order a parent to pay for a share of additional costs for the education and care of a child with special needs. However, the party requesting contribution to these payments or a deviation in the support payments will have to show that the other party can afford to pay his or her share based upon their income and expenses.  I would also claim that this type of expense should be considered when awarding spousal support as the party that is paying for these extraordinary expenses will in effect have less ability to pay the spousal support, particularly where the parties agree that the children should remain at the private institution.

The next question is whether a court may also order a parent to pay for his or her share of the costs of extracurricular activities such as football or soccer (participation fees, uniforms, shoes, travel, banquets, etc.). The case of Edwards v Edwards, 192 Mich App 559 (1992) provides insight into this issue.

In that case the trial court did not include in the order for child support the costs of tuition, books or the costs of extracurricular activities.  The children participated in extracurricular activities as well as piano lessons, dance classes and karate lessons.  The Court of Appeals stated that it would have reached a different conclusion.  Justice MacKenzie referred to the educational, extracurricular activities and incidental expenses of the two active teen-agers in the opinion and appears to indicate that the child support was woefully inadequate when one takes these expenses into account.

Summation

It seems clear that the courts may order parents to pay for their share of the educational expense of their children.  This includes payment for private school tuition, books and other incidental expenses (pictures, field trips, etc.) so long as the parent can “afford” to pay for it. It also seems clear that the court may order parents to pay for extracurricular activities and sports related expenses for the children.  Finally, the courts may order parents to pay for their share of expenses incurred for the education, care, tutoring and remedial issues for a child with special needs. This seems to be the proper course of action to me as education and participation in sports have a positive impact on children and helps to form their adult lives.