Family Court Improperly Deviated from Child Support Guidelines Ordering Father to Pay for Private School Tuition – Published Opinion from Ky. Court of Appeals

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Ridgeway v. Warren

Mother moved Family Court to enter an order allowing her to enroll Child at a private school due to Child experiencing academic difficulties in her parochial school, to apply for financial aid, and asking that Father be required to assist in the financial aid application process. Father objected, citing concerns, such as the cost, the private school being strictly a special needs school, his belief that the public school would be more inclusive and offer more accommodations, and that he had not paid private school tuition at the parochial school. On the hearing on Mother’s motion, Family Court heard testimony from the parties, the friend of the court, and from a psychologist. Family Court made the following findings:

In this case, the parties’ child unquestionably has extraordinary educational needs that have shown limited, if any improvement after two years’ implementation of a Student Accommodation Plan and the assistance of private tutors. The child’s academic delays have become so pronounced that she is unable to return to her school for second grade. The child’s teachers, tutors, school, principal, school counselor, and pediatrician have all referred her to a specialized school. A comprehensive psychological evaluation yielded the same recommendation.

Family Court ordered that Child attend the private school and that the parties pay the cost of attendance in proportion to their incomes. Father filed a motion to alter, amend, or vacate, arguing that he never agreed to pay for the cost of the private school tuition and Family Court could not order him to do so without a finding that the public schools were inadequate to meet Child’s educational needs. Family Court denied this motion. Father appealed.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals held that Family Court did not make the necessary findings to properly order Father to pay private school tuition. Ordering a parent to pay private school tuition is a deviation the from child support guidelines, which deviation requires a showing of proper grounds under KRS 403.211(3). Two such grounds for deviation are (1) an agreement between the parties to deviate and (2) a child’s extraordinary educational needs. Family Court made no finding that the parties agreed to a deviation. Family Court did make a finding that Child had extraordinary educational needs but failed to address case law, Miller v. Miller, 459 S.W.2d 81 (Ky. 1970), requiring a showing that public schools are inadequate for a child’s educational needs to order a parent to pay private school tuition.

Digested by Nathan R. Hardymon

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