Is Private School Better than Public, and Who Pays?

The Superior Court recently considered the case of Murphy v. McDermott (2009), in which the Court was asked to consider whether the unmarried father of a child should be required to pay parochial school tuition. Prior to the outbreak of child support litigation, Mother unilaterally enrolled the child in parochial pre-school, a decision that Father opposed but acquiesced in. When Mother enrolled the child in private kindergarten, Father was roused from complacency and refused to pay. Mother sued him for child support, including private school tuition, and won.

On appeal, the Superior Court considered the two-pronged test previously established by the Pennsylvania courts: (1) whether the child would benefit from private school; and (2) whether the expense was consistent with the standard of living established prior to separation. (Note that the parents never lived together.)  Father argued that the public school should not be presumed to be inferior, and that public school offered more programs than parochial school. The Superior Court held that it would not overrule the trial court’s finding that parochial school would benefit the child, nor its finding that Father could afford the expense. One of the Superior Court judges wrote a strong dissent, expressing his opinion that public schools should not be denigrated.  In fact, the dissenting judge would have created a presumption that public schools are adequate unless the parent seeking private or parochial school could prove a deficiency.

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