Can Child Support Pay for College Tuition?

While many parents understand that paying child support means covering basic necessities for their kids, others may wonder what additional expenses they may be required to pay above and beyond the base amount of child support. One question that arises frequently is the intersect between child support and college expenses. As a result, many parents wonder whether child support can pay for college tuition.

The answer to this, as with many issues in family law, depends on the situation. Courts typically require child support payments to extend past the child’s 18th birthday until they are 21 years old if they are still financially dependent on the parents and living at home.  If the child is enrolled in college, child support can also extend until the child graduates from college.  However, child support will almost never be ordered after a child turns 23 regardless of whether the child has not graduated college yet. While a child is in college though, the court will look at many factors when determining whether there should be a child support order only or a combination of child support and additional college contributions.

With over 35 combined years of exclusive family law experience, our attorneys can help you understand whether you may have to contribute toward your child’s higher education in addition to child support and pursue a favorable arrangement on your behalf.

Situations Where Child Support Can be Ordered for a College Student

State law requires both parents to contribute to their child’s support and care, which includes covering the cost of their food, clothing, education, medical care, and other essentials. Sometimes, the child support order will include the payor’s contribution to additional expenses and, other times, there may be additional payments above and beyond the base child support order relating to a child’s extracurricular activities.

College has become a significant expense for many students and the legislation has acted in a way to help children not occur substantial debt when starting their career. While married, no state agency can force the parents to pay toward their child’s college expenses; however, when the parents are not married (inclusive of never married parents or divorced parents), the court can order each to contribute toward their children’s college tuition in addition to one parent paying basic child support. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines gives a Judge the authority to order each parent to pay up to half of the amount that is charged at a state school, such as the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. When combined with a child support order, this can be a significant amount of money for the parents.

What Factors Does the Court Review When Determining Child Support for University Costs?

The child’s financial dependence is a primary qualifying factor when determining whether support should extend beyond the child’s 18th birthday. If a child is no longer under their parent’s roof and lives without financial assistance, a judge may decide that the child is emancipated and not order child support or make either parent pay for college expenses.

If the child is not emancipated, the court will usually look to whether university costs would be an unreasonable burden on either parent and if this financial contribution is in the child’s best interests. As such, when determining whether parents should pay for college expenses, a judge may consider the needs of the child, the financial circumstances of both parents, where the child currently resides, the child’s educational ambitions, and how the university in question could help the child further those ambitions. The judge may also consider the types of economic aid the child may use to help fund their education and whether both parents contributed in the decisions surrounding where the child goes to college.

When a judge does issue a separate order for a parent to contribute to university expenses, the Court will usually not require either party to pay for more than half of the annual cost of UMass Amherst, which is used as a baseline for the cost of tuition. In general, there are many nuances and complexities to these situations.

Although in-state tuition is generally less expensive than out-of-state or private schools, do not immediately cross those schools out when considering where to send your child to school.  There have been many circumstances where a child will receive a scholarship to a private or out-of-state school that causes the overall annual costs for attendance there much less expensive than if they attended an in-state public school with no scholarship. You should discuss these matters with one of our extraordinary attorneys at O’Connor Family Law.

Speak with a Lawyer to Learn More about Child Support Obligations and College Tuition

While it is true that child support can pay for college tuition, there are numerous factors the court must consider before whether that would be the case or whether the college contribution will be ordered above and beyond that base order. If you face the possibility of having to contribute toward your child’s college education, an attorney from our firm can provide you with more information about the laws governing your potential support obligation and offer guidance for your case.

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