Child Support College Expenses

Child Support Issues: College Expenses and Emancipation

Child Support College Expenses
Child Support College Expenses

For many parents, seeing their children graduate from high school and continue their education at the collegiate level is a dream come true. However, many divorced parents are left wondering who is going to pay for the cost of their child’s college education. In Indiana, educational support orders have time-sensitive deadlines which affect both custodial and non-custodial parents alike.

The Current Law

In July 2012, the Indiana legislature modified the existing statute and changed the legal age of majority, also known as the age of emancipation, from 21 to 19. Also in that statute, the legislature made clear that if a child support order was issued before July 2012, a parent, guardian, or the child could petition the court for educational needs until the child turned 21. However, if a child support order was issued after July 2012, a parent, guardian, or the child would only be able to petition the court for education needs until the child turned 19.

It is important to note that the “July 2012” date does not just relate back to when the original support order was filed. Indiana courts have held that even if the original divorce decree or support order was issued prior to July 2012, if the parties have filed any sort of modification, the courts will look to the most recent support order when determining the age of majority. If you have had any child support order issued from July 1, 2012 and on, you will only have until your child is 19 to petition for an educational support order.

What Counts As “Educational Needs”

The current statute does not define “educational needs” as only being traditional, 4-year college expenses. If your child is planning to attend a trade or technical school or a community or junior college, these would all be considered in a petition for educational support.

Your Previous Decree Or Order

Sometimes, divorcing parents will negotiate anticipated educational costs when they are going through their divorce or if they have had a child support modification. If that is your case, then Indiana’s support timeframe won’t cause this requirement to end. For example, if you agreed to pay for a portion of your child’s college education, the statute requiring a petition by the time the child is 19 or 21 will not effect your previously-negotiated agreement. The courts will treat the agreement that you made as a binding contract.

How Much Will Each Parent Be Responsible For?

Unfortunately, the current statute does not list the portion that each parent will be responsible for. In some courts, the trend seems to be that each parent will be responsible for his or her “percentage” as reflected in the parties’ child support worksheet (because you will be petitioning the court, you will also want to submit a recent, up-to-date child support worksheet with your petition). Indiana Code § 31-16-6-2 suggests that courts may consider the child’s aptitude and ability, the child’s ability to contribute to through work and obtaining loans and other forms of financial aid, and each parent’s ability to meet those expenses when determining how much each party should be required to contribute.

However, other courts still use the more traditional method of “thirds,” with each parent being responsible for one-third of the child’s expenses, and the child himself being responsible for one-third of the expense.

Paying Child Support and Educational Needs Simultaneously

Indiana Code § 31-16-6-2 reflects the understanding that, if a parent is ordered to contribute to their child’s postsecondary educational expenses, this should be reflected in the current child support order as well. Because many children begin college at age 18 and the age of emancipation is 19, child support orders and educational support orders can occur simultaneously. However, this statute requires courts to reduce child support payments that are either duplicated by the educational support order and that would be otherwise be paid to the custodial parent. For example, Indiana case law has held that a noncustodial parent who has been ordered to pay educational expenses while the child is living at college and away from the custodial parent were duplicate child support expenses.

Start Thinking About It Before It’s Too Late

Hopefully, divorced parents are able to agree on how postsecondary education expenses should be shared. However, even if you can come to an agreement, it is important to file that agreement with the court. If at some point either side stops participating in the informal agreement, and the child has reached the age of majority, the other parent will be unable to pursue an action to receive for educational support for their child.

Child support modifications regarding educational expenses can be fact-sensitive and apply the 2012 statute can be confusing. If you are considering petitioning for educational support for your child or if you have questions, call the attorneys at The Nice Law Firm today. We would be glad to help!

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