Interesting dilemma involving adolescents, ex-spouse and private school

To make things simple I’ll just call the characters in this story Mom, Dad, Daughter and Exhusband.

When Mom and Dad got married about 10 years ago, Mom had two preschool daughters: Daughter and her younger sister. Now Mom and Dad also have one more child of their own.

Here’s the problem. About a year or so ago Exhusband promised to pay for four years of private school for Daughter. After much debate Mom and Dad allowed Daughter to accept the gift and she is now in private school. But Exhusband has not paid a penny of the tuition for even this year. Daughter could be expelled by the time you read this.

Mom and Dad are middle class. They can afford to pay the tuition for this year, even for the next three years, but it would hurt. Cutbacks would have to be made in many areas, including college money for all three kids, retirement savings, etc.

To further complicate things Daughter passed up an opportunity to attend a selective public school. It is uncertain whether she could get in at this point after turning them down. No matter what she will not be admitted now and won’t find out about the fall until this summer.

Also, I should mention that Exhusband does not appear to have much money at this point. He earns a good middle class salary but there seems to be agreement that there is no way he could ever be forced to pay for the private school.

The question is: What should Mom and Dad do? Pay for this year and try to work things out by September for next year? Pay for a longer period of time? Not pay at all?

Also, what can they say or not say to Daughter about her father, Exhusband?

BTW, I should mention that I am not one of the above, but I am related to one of the parents. They called to ask my advice, and I couldn’t think of much to say. Any suggestions, especially those related to how to communicate with Daughter about Exhusbad, would be appreciated.

In my opinion, it would be a mistake for the parents to tap into the college savings earmarked for ALL of their kids (or their own retirement funds for that matter) so ONE of their daughters could continue with a private-school education.

Has the private school been contacted to see if Daughter may retroactively apply for financial aid, given the circumstances?

They have to do what’s best for all their children. I can’t see why they should have to do anything different than they would have done otherwise. Ex-Husband offered something they couldn’t, and him not making good on that offer doesn’t make them any more able to provide it themselves.

As for what they tell Daughter about Ex, while what he did is pretty crappy, I don’t think anyone is served by vilifying him. I’d put it in terms like, “He made a very generous offer, but unfortunately, he was unable to deliver on his promise.” If this sort of thing is par for the course for him (and I hope it’s not, or Mom and Dad were pretty dumb to believe him), they might put it more like, “Unfortunately, he often tries to be more generous than he’s really able to be.” Either way, Daughter will get the idea that, while he didn’t do this to be hurtful, he shouldn’t necessarily always be believed.

Based on the facts as outlined, I would suggest that Mom and Dad pay for this year at the private school so that Daughter does not get expelled, and then make plans for her to attend public school next year. Try to get her into the selective public school if possible. If it can’t be worked out for her to attend the selective school, Mom and Dad might think about supplementing her with some extra after-school classes or activities that she would enjoy.

I would say that what to tell her depends on her maturity level and the history of the family relationships. Is it possible for Exhusband to explain to her that he had hoped to be able to do this for her, but he’s now unable to do so because of ____?

As a side note, does Exhusband know that Daughter is facing expulsion and passed up the opportunity to attend the selective public school? It’s not clear from the OP, but if Exhusband makes a middle class income, and can’t be compelled to pay, why did Mom and Dad believe that he would have been able to pay for the private school?

Hit the nail on the head. Would she have attended private school if not for his offer? No. He can’t make good on his promise so probably the best thing is for her to be put back into the public school system.

I don’t think there’s a single answer, they have to consider the options that are in front of them and weight the merits and the costs of each school. It’s shitty what the dad did but I don’t necessarily think that this should affect the decision of where to send the kid next year. That is, if you started the OP with “Friends of mine had an unexpected financial turnaround and can no longer afford the school where their kid has already been enrolled for one year. What should they do?” I don’t know think their decision should be any different.

I do agree with ENugent, the one sure thing they should do is contact the school and see what they can work out. Lots of private schools provide need-based aid, it’s something of a mark of quality. You could probably find this information on the school’s website if you wanted to look.

I don’t think there is a single right answer here either. Unless the offer was made legal…that is was put into the parenting plan or custody agreement or was ordered by the judge as part of the divorce/custody orders…there is really nothing forcing the EX Husband to make good on his agreement, and if he is not in a financial position to do so then he should never have made the offer in the first place. But they can’t go back and undo anything at this point.

So what I think Mom and Dad should do is this: try to scrimp, save, apply for financial aid and make whatever adjustments necessary to pay for this year if possible. If that’s not possible then it isn’t. I would think they should make arrangements for public school next year, but do whatever they can to keep this one. The school year is almost over and I don’t think it wouldn’t do daughter any favors to switch schools right now, unless there is no way around it.

As for what should be said to the daughter, I try to err on the side of caution and I don’t think kids need to know every last detail of their parents’ disputes nor just how jerk-ish their other parent is (or might be) so what I would say is something like, “Your father offered to pay for school, but now he can’t. We can not afford this school either, so I am sorry but things have to change…” If she wants to take it up with her father, then that’s her business and between them, but I would stay far away from any accusations or derision directed toward her father.

My ex husband didn’t pay for private school before or after the divorce so I did. It wasn’t easy but I’m very glad I sacrificed today. My decision was always to send them to private and I wanted to pay for it.

I would not put down the ex to the daughter. That is her father and private school may not mean that much to him now that he is also paying child support. It comes down to the parents and how important this is for their daughter. This is their decision now that the ex won’t pay and he should be not put down and just disregarded from the decision.

It’s the parents decision. If they choose not to send her any longer I would hope they don’t blame the ex. They should tell her I’m sorry but we can’t afford to send you.

Thanks for the input. I appreciate the suggestions and perspectives so far. Hear are a couple of responses to some questions raised:

They’ve had a few conversations and the school isn’t yielding at all. Their position seems to be that they’ve missed the deadline for financial aid by about 12 months and there are no more scholarships lying around. Also I think they want to set an example that just because we’re a school it doesn’t mean you can avoid paying your bills. I’ve heard of other cases where schools refuse to send transcripts to college until the old bills are paid.

Exhusband seems to be in some sort of a downward slide in his life. He was doing well financially years ago and now he isn’t. For several years he paid his share of child support. Now he doesn’t even pay that.

I think the hardest part for Mom and Dad to deal with is the emotional component of it. This selfish guy comes into their lives and dumps a problem on them that they will have to deal with. Daughter may very well suffer for this and even blame Mom and Dad for being so cheap.

I think I have a blind spot on this issue of not blaming the other parent, in this case Exhusband. In my own life it was so much the other way. My parents didn’t divorce, stayed together till my mother died in her eighties. And I can only remember one time each when my parents said anything to me that was critical of the other. And it those two cases it was actually a relief to have the barrier broken and to be included. So while I know that it’s universally agreed that you should never blame the other parent, there’s a part of me that still doesn’t get it. But it sounds like there’s some agreement that Daughter can at least be told the facts: that the reason she may/will be leaving school soon is because of Exhusband’s failure to live up to his promise.

I’m sorry – I don’t mean to make light of this difficult situation, but in light of your username, I have to admit that I’m chuckling at the thought of them saying, “It’s time to turn to Plan B!”

Hmm. 10 years ago she was a pre-schooler - sounds like she’s at least 11 years old now, possibly 14 or 15. Old enough to understand the difference between “being cheap” and the realities of budgeting.

And right about the age where your friends are your life and your parents are those mean people who don’t know anything. I think it’d be easier if she were younger.

I think the key question is how much of a difference is going to private school going to make in the life of the daughter? If she’s an average student and her desire to go to the private school is to seek status or keep up with friends, then I don’t think it’s worth it. However, if she’s a bright student with heaps of potential that won’t be realized at public school, I’d consider the private school an investment. If that’s the case, could the parents use some of the money they’re putting away for college to pay for this year’s private school and try to get assistance for next year? If private school helps her excel then she may qualify for more scholarships and she can always apply for financial aid to help with college.

It might be helpful to point out that switching schools between grades 9 and 10 (that is the situation here?) is pretty common, and doesn’t have to be disruptive for the student. The grade 9 classes are fairly standardized, so it’s shouldn’t be a big a deal to switch into the “track” in match/science/etc at another school. Plus it’s 3 more years to make friends, pick up a new sport, etc. If she is going to switch schools then now is the time to do it – it’s better than pulling her out after grade 10 and 11. If she’s down about the situation then maybe they can talk to someone at the new school about the experience for transfer students, I’m sure there’s a story of someone who came in at grade 10 and went on to become class president or whatever.

I went to a private school and in general I would say that it can be worth the extra money, depending on circumstance, so I’m not necessarily saying they should just pull her out. But if they can’t even afford the back tuition for this year … then yeah, that’s kinda a lost situation. Maybe exploring other options will help everyone feel more hopeful about the situation, maybe there’s something the local public schools have something to offer that the private school doesn’t.

Certainly it would. But parenting isn’t about things being easy. :slight_smile:

This isn’t really all that surprising with the economy right now. Many people are not nearly as financially set as they thought they were. I think it boils down to motive. Did EX rescind his offer (or just stop paying) simply because he can no longer do it or did he do it with malice or just to piss off Mom? That should be explored without the daughter’s input or knowledge however, IMO.

If it is truly simply a matter of the money not being there, then I think everyone should be a bit understanding and sympathetic. If he is just being a jerk, then not so much.

It sounds like there is more to the story. He just came into their lives? Where has he been since the divorce? And if he has a selfish history (and there is obviously a reason he and Mom are divorced…) why did Mom count on his offer in the first place? My own (trustworthy) EX offered to pay for a lot of things for me after our divorce, but I made sure I could afford them without him just in case. EXes are by nature not someone we fully trust or someone who should be counted on for any more than their legal (and parental) obligations. I don’t mean to sound harsh or to put any blame at all on Mom, but it sounds like it was a mistake to enroll daughter in a school she couldn’t afford to begin with. If it was Mom who signed her in, then it is she who will be (legally) responsible despite any promises made by any one else. She should probably get any future such offers in writing or somehow legally binding to the EX just to be on the safe side.

Your experience is also not atypical. The thing is, in a divorce the parents naturally (most often) dislike one another and it’s easy to say negative things about the other to the child. The child however loves the parents and should not be made to feel one is better than the other. If Dad is truly a jerk, then daughter will know, but if Mom just bad-mouths him and daughter doesn’t see it, then it looks bad on Mom. In this particular situation I would lay out the facts: we can’t afford this school, EX said he would pay for it, but now he can’t afford it either, so I am sorry but…then if she wants to know why or how her father did that she can pursue it with him. But I would absolutely not approach it as “Ex is a lying asshat who only thinks about himself so he isn’t going to pay for school even though he said he would!” The former will let daughter know everything she needs to know, the latter will make Mom look like a bitter harpie even if she is completely justified and even if EX is a total asshat who doesn’t deserve children in the first place.