Agreement to Pay Private School Tuition Instead of Child Support Examined in Memphis, Tennessee: State ex rel. Roberts v. Crafton

May 5, 2021 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

Facts: When Mother and Father, the parents of two children, divorced, the Court approved their agreed parenting plan that did not order either party to pay child support because the parties agreed to pay private school tuition in place of child support. Specifically, the plan said:

In lieu of the payment of child support, the parties agree that Father shall share equally in the cost of private school. When the children have reached the age where Christ Methodist School is no longer an option, the parties agree that the children will attend private school chosen by Mother. At that time, Father’s obligation to pay his share of private school will cease. Any child support obligation will be limited to the amount of support pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines without consideration of this tuition amount paid by Mother.

Three years later, Father moved to set aside the original child support order because he alleged its failure to follow the Child Support Guidelines makes it void. Among other things, Father argued the original parenting plan—that he agreed to, mind you—violated his “constitutional right to place the child in public school.”

The trial court declined to set aside the original child support order.

Father appealed.

On Appeal: The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

A child support order is a judgment enforceable like any other judgment issued by a Tennessee court.

Agreements that relieve a parent of their obligation to provide child support are void as against public policy whether or not they are incorporated into court orders. Still, parents may agree to set child support if the agreement is incorporated into a court order that the parties acknowledge they cannot change without court approval.

Agreements between parents about the scope of their legal duty to support their children lose their contractual nature when incorporated into a court order. As such, child-support obligations are subject to modification by the trial court. In contrast, agreements extending a parent’s child-support obligation past the child’s majority age remain contractual.

The Court found no problem with enforcing the parties’ original agreement:

[T]he child support order at issue herein did not entirely relieve either parent of their obligation to support their children, which is the crux of the basis for finding a child support order void on public policy grounds. Here, Father does not contend that the parties’ children were left without provision as a result of the [original] child support order, or indeed from any order pertaining to child support in this matter. Father’s only objection stems from his disagreement with having to pay for private school tuition. That does not implicate any public policy concerns of this state. In addition, nothing in the [original] plan purported to bar the parties from seeking future modifications to the plan should circumstances warrant. Any deficiencies in the [original] child support plan are not of the sort that would render it, a jurisdictionally valid court order, a nullity notwithstanding any particular misapplication of the Child Support Guidelines contained therein; direct appeal would have been the proper Avenue for rectifying any alleged misapplications. Of course, the time for that has long since passed. . . . We hold that the [original] permanent parenting plan is not void as against public policy.

The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

State ex rel. Roberts v. Crafton (Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, April 19, 2021).

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Agreement to Pay Private School Tuition Instead of Child Support Examined in Memphis, Tennessee: State ex rel. Roberts v. Crafton was last modified: April 29th, 2021 by K.O. Herston

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