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 economic support for a child until the child graduates from high school, in some cases a parent may also be obligated to pay for a child’s college education as well.
Support Consent Agreements
In any situation where the parents of a child are not in a relationship and do not cohabitate, they should attempt to resolve any issues regarding economic support of the child without 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, as the agreement will then become an enforceable contract. In the case of an agreement defining obligations for a child’s college expenses, it is important that the agreement be as detailed as possible. In addition to defining who must pay for tuition, it must be determined who will pay for room and board and other living expenses, books, and travel expenses for the child.
Court Ordered Economic Support Past the Age of Majority
If the parents of a child are unable to come to an agreement regarding child support, one of them can file an action seeking support for the child, and a court will set forth an order defining each parent’s obligations. An issue that commonly arises in deciding who should provide economic support for a child is which parent is responsible for any costs incurred for the child’s education. Until relatively recently, court orders dictating a parent’s obligation to provide financial support for a child would only be in effect until the child reached the age of majority. What constitutes the age of majority varies according to state law, but it is generally at least 18-years-old or until the child graduates from high school. Currently, however, there are some states 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 vary by state. In some states a court may be permitted to order a parent to pay for post-high school education, but limit the duration of the obligation to when the child turns 21. Many states do not have defined statutes or court rulings that would allow a court to issue an order that a parent is required to pay for a child’s college tuition. Other states expressly prohibit a court from imposing an obligation on 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 would still be able to enforce the terms of any agreement entered into by the parents. As such, 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 owed.
Support Orders and Financial Aid
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.