Dad Can’t Withhold Consent After Agreeing to Pay Private School Tuition
Tennessee case summary on private school tuition.
The mother and father in this case were divorced in Mississippi in 2011. At that time, they entered into an agreement covering child custody, support, and property settlement, and that agreement was incorporated into the final judgment. At the time of the divorce, their one child was six years old and enrolled in private school in Memphis, Tennessee. The agreement provided that each parent would be responsible for one half of the child’s tuition and other expenses. The agreement also provided that Mississippi law would govern the agreement.
In 2014, the father advised the mother that he was no longer able to pay the tuition, and that he no longer consented to private school for the upcoming school year. The mother then filed a petition in a Tennessee court to enforce the Mississippi judgment.
Both parents were attorneys in Tennessee, and the mother was earning $152,000 per year. The father’s law firm had recently dissolved, and at the time of trial, his only certain income was about $1,300 per month as a part-time prosecutor for a town in Mississippi. He later received a position as an assistant county attorney in Shelby County, Tennessee, with a salary of about $89,000 per year. The father introduced an exhibit showing that he had only $21 per month left over after necessary expenses, and was no longer to pay the private school tuition. He also pointed out that the public school where the child resided was one of the best in the state.
The trial court examined the parties’ agreement, and even though it noted there was some ambiguity, it did show a clear intent for the child to attend a private school. It found that the husband’s withholding consent was unreasonable, and that the father was able to meet the obligation. Dissatisfied, the husband then appealed to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
The appeals court agreed that the settlement agreement should be construed under Mississippi law, which treats such settlements as contracts, and normal rules of contract law apply.
The appeals court acknowledged that the settlement agreement was not a model of clarity, but when reading it, the parties’ intent to send the child to private school was manifestly clear, and there was no ambiguity on this point.
The appeals court also agreed that the father’s withholding consent was unreasonable. The father’s computation of income took into the account that he was saving for the child’s college education, which he was required to pay for. However, the Court of Appeals noted that he had no obligation to save for these expenses, merely to pay them when they became due. Therefore, his argument was premature. Since the father voluntarily assumed the obligation to pay the private school tuition, it was unreasonable for him to withhold consent.
For these reasons, the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling, and assessed the costs against the father.
No. W2015-01165-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 11, 2016).
See original opinion for exact language. Legal citations omitted.
To learn more, see Private School Tuition in Tennessee Child Support Laws.
See also Tennessee Parenting Plans and Child Support Worksheets: Building a Constructive Future for Your Family featuring actual examples of parenting plans and child support worksheets from real cases available on Amazon.com.