Dear Mrs Walker-Huntington:
My brother is a United States (US) citizen residing in Broward County, Florida, who got married in 2006 to his Jamaican girlfriend (who then moved to Florida to live with him) and the same year their daughter was born. Unfortunately, the marriage did not last and they agreed to divorce in 2009. No other children were born of the marriage. During the divorce filing, they opted to agree on matters of custody as well as child-support payments and the responsibilities of each parent.
In 2010, his ex-wife decided that she would like to return to Jamaica with their daughter. She sought his permission to take their four-year-old daughter to reside with her in Jamaica. The ex-wife retained a lawyer to draw up the agreement where it outlined that they both maintain joint custody of their daughter, as well as a child-support payment of US$700 per month, maintenance by both parents to provide life, dental and health insurance, and for the daughter to spend the summer months and Christmas with her father. All other times, the daughter would reside in Jamaica.
Six months into 2011, the ex-wife started to email my brother stating that he is obligated to pay tuition for preparatory school of US$1,500 per term completely separate from the monthly child-support payments of US$700 being sent religiously. Her claim is that the US$700 is not enough and that it is "understood in Jamaica" that child-support payments do not include tuition and tuition-related expenses. Upon reading the agreement which was signed by both parties and her attorney (my brother did not retain an attorney), there was nothing specifically speaking of tuition to be paid separate from the child-support payment by my brother.
The ex-wife is stating that Jamaican laws state that a child-support payment does not include tuition payments and should be paid separately, is this true? Can his ex-wife force him legally to pay tuition expenses in addition to his monthly child-support payments?
Child support in the US is the combination of the available income of both parents, the number of children and then determined by the state's guidelines. US$700 per month for one child is high and, based on the history in this case, I am not sure if the amount was determined by the guidelines or if the father on his own decided to give US$700 per month for the child. US$700 per month in the US or in Jamaica is a lot of money to be receiving for child support. That amount surpasses what many people earn in Jamaica as their monthly salary.
There is no requirement in Florida that private school be paid by the non-custodial parent. Free public education is available to children in Florida and in Jamaica with minimum fees. Therefore, if the custodial parent wants to pay US$1,500 per term for a six-year-old child to attend private school and the father does not agree, the mother would be on her own in Florida to pay the school fees.
There are many things that can be included in child support from which the custodial parent is to secure the welfare of the minor child. Private-school tuition is not one of them.
This case is based in Florida and for a Jamaican court to have jurisdiction, the matter would have to be domesticated in Jamaica. Since the ex-wife has been in Jamaica for more than six months, it would be easier for the courts in Jamaica to take jurisdiction. Your brother should not be pressured into paying an extra US$1,500 every few months if he does not want to, and if he cannot afford to pay that amount. Your brother should consult a lawyer in Jamaica as to what the Jamaican laws have to say on the issue of private school, but if public school is available for the minor child, it is a choice to send the child to private school.
Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States; and family, criminal and personal injury law in Florida. She is a mediator, arbitrator and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida. firstname.lastname@example.org