After a divorce, there are many decisions to consider regarding the couple’s children and financial obligations. In a March 1, 2017 decision, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee considered an appeal of a trial court order concerning the father’s obligation to pay private school tuition and the mother’s imputed income for the purpose of calculating child support.
In the case, the Final Decree of Divorce entered by the trial court incorporated the parties’ permanent parenting plan, wherein the father agreed to pay for his children’s private school education through high school. In settling the amount of child support, the court also found that the mother was voluntarily unemployed and imputed to her an income of $72,000. In March 2015, the father filed a petition seeking to modify his obligation to pay the tuition. The lower court denied this request, holding that the father’s tuition obligations are not subject to modification. The trial court also denied the mother’s request to modify her support obligation.
While Tennessee courts do not have authority to order a parent to pay the undergraduate or post-secondary tuition of a child who is at the age of majority, if a parent enters into such an agreement it will be enforced by the Tennessee courts. This type of agreement retains its contractual nature when included in the final decree of divorce, and cannot be modified by the court. However, tuition for private grade school or high school is considered an extraordinary educational expense that may, in some circumstances, be a part of a parent’s duty to support his or her child. Unlike an agreement to pay college tuition, a parent’s agreement to pay for private elementary or secondary education may be subject to modification if it is incorporated into the final decree of divorce.