Where the School Bell Tolls: Public or Private Schools in Iowa Divorce and Custody | The tone

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds signed the Students First Act (“SFA”) into law. Through 2025, the SFA will give parents $7,598 per child annually to enroll their children in a private school through an Education Savings Account (“ESA”). Families can use the ESAs for qualifying educational expenses, which include tuition and fees at non-public schools, textbooks, and other educational materials.

For divorced or separated parents, the SFA raises questions about how parents determine where their child goes to school. Most parents in Iowa enjoy joint custody, with both parents having equal legal rights and responsibilities. This means that both parents are equally involved in decisions that affect their child’s education and school attendance.

If the parents divorce or separate, they must decide whether the child attends a public or non-public school. If the parents decide by mutual consent for non-public schools, the parents must then decide which parent or both parents will pay, which the ESA funds do not cover. When parents cannot decide where their child should go to school, they go to court and the judge decides.

For example, if one parent wants the child to attend a non-public school and the second parent agrees but does not want to pay the tuition and fees, the first parent must pay the balance that is not covered by the ESA. Otherwise, by default, the child would attend a public school.

Decisions related to K-12 education are already impacting families, but with the SFA, families now face new questions in divorce and child custody cases. Fortunately, experienced attorneys can navigate the SFA and work towards a solution for the parents and their children.

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