Child Support College Payments

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Most Common Family Law Issues:

Can I Force (or be Forced) to Pay my Child's College Tuition?

There is no one word answer to this question, as each state (and indeed, each court), handles the problem differently, on a case by case basis.  What can be said is that there is definitely a growing trend to force divorced parents to contribute some kind of support for college expenses.  

The traditional law on child support was to cease all parental payments and responsibilities once the child turned 18, but as college is no longer seen as a "luxury," and in many cases has become a basic necessity to enter the work force, courts are shying away from the traditional approach.  

Seventeen states currently include college payments as part of child support plans, while four states refer to "educational expenses" in general, which may include college (or even graduate school in some cases!).  

Do I Have Any Say in College Decisions?

If you are the non-custodial parent, some states do give you some say in the choice of college, or some states (like Connecticut) automatically cap the maximum amount required at the cost of in-state tuition (as long as the in state school can provide a "good education").  In that scenario, that would mean even if the child gets into Yale, the non-custodial parent would only have to contribute enough to get the child into a "good" state school.  

This area of law is very discretionary, however, with Judges having broad powers to rule as they wish to best match the case at hand.  When deciding whether to force a parent to pay, the court will probably consider some of the following factors:

What If I Already Made Arrangements in my Divorce Proceedings for College?

If divorcing parents reach an agreement during their divorce about payment of college expenses and put it into writing, the courts will likely enforce it.  The above explanations generally only apply to people who made no such provisions (which is sadly most of the time).  Common arrangements for parents to make are to limit the number of semesters a child can go to college (to four years, for example),  or to make the child meet certain requirements in order to qualify for support (such as academics, staying out of trouble, etc...). 

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you are faced with the sudden demand of college tuition, or else you wish to request college tuition funds from a non-custodial parent, it is very important you talk to a family lawyer in your state.  This is a constantly shifting issue, and an attorney familiar with all the recent developments will be very important in protecting your interests.

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Last Modified: 03-11-2013 04:31 PM PDT

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