When parents get divorced or are seperated, the noncustodial parent is legally obligated to help with the financial needs of the child by making child support payments. However, in terms of paying for college expenses through child support can vary in the states especially if there is no agreement set in place. Some states may mandate that divorced parents pay for college related expenses (based on the notion that a child’s education should not be hindered because of a divorce). However, other states view these as conditional expenses and do not mandate college expense payments or reimbursements. 

Typically, if the parents of a child are not able to come to an agreement regarding child support, either one of them can file an action seeking support for the child, and the court will set forth an order defining each parent’s obligations. Sometimes, the issue of college expenses will arise. Recently, the court order indicated that a parent’s obligation to provide financial support for a child would only be in effect until the child reached the age of majority. But what constitutes the age of majority differs among state laws. Usually this is 18 year olds or until the child graduates from high school. 

It is important to note that there are some states today that allow courts to impose an obligation on a parent to pay for a child’s college education. The details of what obligation may be imposed on a parent is different according to each state. In some states a court may be allowed to order a parent to pay for post-high school education, but limit the duration of the obligation to when the child turns 21. Moreover, there are many states that do not have defined statutes or court rulings that would permit a court to issue an order that a parent is required to pay for a child’s college tuition. Additionally, other states expressly prohibit a court from requiring either parent to provide financial support for a child past the age of majority.

Even if the laws of a state do not allow for a court-ordered obligation to pay for a child’s college education, the court can still have authority to enforce the terms of any agreement entered into by the parents. For example, if the parents have a written agreement that states one parent must provide financial support for a child and the parent refuses to abide by the agreement, the other parent can seek court intervention to enforce the agreement and require his or her co-parent to pay what is legally owed under the child support agreement

What Factors Does a Court Examine When Deciding Child Support and College Expenses?

The courts consider a variety of factors in determining whether to grant college expense support to an ex-spouse, these can include the following:

  • The financial resources of both parents that may include income, savings and investments; 
  • The standard of living the child would have lived had the marriage not been terminated;
  • The financial resources of the child (including financial aid and scholarships); 
  • The child’s academic performance and; 
  • Typical college expenses may consist of: tuition, room and board, dues/fees, transportation/travel, books, medical/dental fees, and other living expenses.

Generally, there is not an exact formula for determining the amount of child support but it is typically based on your ability to pay. Many states have established rules and guidelines regarding child support and college expenses. This means the amount of the award is usually left to the discretion of the court, but the court will also consider the factors mentioned above. 

What is the Duration of Child Support Payments When it Comes to College Payments? 

Depending on the state you reside, the college expenses are considered a form of child support under the law, they are subject to enforcement, modification, and termination. Usually, when a child is attending college, they are not emancipated or financially self-supporting. Your obligation as a parent to pay for educational expenses officially terminates when the child is emancipated, or by the time your child earns a degree.

However, the amount the parent is required to pay when a child is attending college may be reduced if the child is living at school. This is because the cost of college includes room and board and the parent of primary residence is not necessarily incurring those expenses. So, the parent of the different residential address will likely have to pay, but that amount can get reduced.

With the cost of college tuition continuing to increase, paying for a child’s college education can be a cause for concern, especially if the child’s parents disagree over who bears the responsibility for supporting the child financially. While it is common for a court to order one or both parents to provide financial support for a child until the child graduates from high school, however in some cases the parent may also be required to pay for a child’s college education as well.

What Are Support Consent Agreements? 

In any situation where the parents of a child are not in a relationship and do not live together, they should attempt to resolve any issues concerning economic support of the child without little to no court intervention. Even if parents are able to develop an agreement, the agreement should be reduced to writing and filed with a court that has jurisdiction over the matter because the agreement will then become an enforceable contract. In the case of an agreement defining obligations for a child’s college expenses, it is crucial that the contract be as detailed as possible to include the fair terms. In addition to defining who needs to pay for tuition, it must be determined who will pay for room and boarding and other living expenses, books, and travel expenses for the child.

How Does Federal Financial Aid Apply When Dealing With Child Support? 

Another issue that must be considered when a child who is supported under a court order decides to attend college is how custody and support of the child will affect any application for federal financial aid. 

For purposes of evaluating federal financial aid, the parent the child lived with the majority of the time in the previous year will be considered the custodial parent. Generally, only the custodial parent’s income will be considered in determining what federal aid a child is qualified to receive. If the custodial parent receives support from the non-custodial parent, this will be considered in evaluating the child’s financial needs.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you are a parent and paying child support you may want to consider what your obligations may be for college expenses, especially if your child is reaching the age of maturity. Although it is not legally mandated to pay child support for college expenses it could be in some situations depending on the state you live in. Therefore, it is advisable to do more research for the state you’re living in and reach out to a local child support lawyers to consult about a possible solution for the issues that arise when dealing with making child support payments for college expenses.