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“Child Support” for Your Child’s College Education: What You Need to Know

In the realm of child support, which most divorcing, divorced, or unmarried parents think of in
terms of minor children, there exists a concept commonly referred to as “educational child support”
for post-secondary (undergraduate) education. This is the financial assistance parents may be
court-ordered to pay to provide support for the higher (post-secondary) educational needs of their
child(ren). This blog explores Indiana's policy stance on this matter, and explores key
considerations and concepts of support for higher education.

Where do I start? Understanding the thresholds for educational child support is crucial for parents
paying support for such for their child(ren) and should begin long before they begin high school
for many reasons. The parents must financially plan for college expenses. In addition, to maximize
any support that may be ordered to be paid for higher education, the ex-spouses and ex-out-ofwedlock parents—who are still parents—should open a dialogue to facilitate the child(ren)
thinking about college, visiting college campuses and the like.

Can I really be ordered to pay for my kid’s college? Yes. Indiana is in a minority of states where
parents of children, either from divorce or born out-of-wedlock, may be required to pay the higher
educational needs of their children after high school. This is because of Indiana’s fundamental
view of the role of education; a good education is viewed as a cornerstone of a child's development
and predictor of future success. It not only equips them with knowledge and skills but also opens
doors to various opportunities. The fact that parents cannot be ordered to pay for their children’s
child support has been challenged as violating equal protection; but these challenges have failed
in Indiana’s higher appellate courts.

What can parents be ordered to pay for college? Given the cost of a higher education, educational
child support is the crucial bridge over the financial barrier higher-education poses. This support
can be very broad in scope and may encompass expenses related to school fees, textbooks,
educational supplies, and even extracurricular activities. That said, all support costs ordered to
be paid by the parents must be reasonably linked to the cost of the higher education.
Are there time limits to a request for college expense—can my kid request this at 25? No. The
statutory scheme allowing a court to order child support to pay toward higher education has
limits. To be eligible to receive support for higher education, a parent must file a notice requesting
this support not later than the date on which the child(ren) will turn nineteen (19) years of age. If
this request is not made in a timely fashion, a child is emancipated as a matter of law
(automatically) at nineteen (19) years of age.

Can a parent object to an award of higher education support? Yes. The parent not paying support
may object to a higher education expense award and request a hearing not later than thirty (30)
days after the party (the other parent) receives notice. However, without a timely objection, the
court may, without holding a hearing, issue an order continuing child support through the date on
which the child is expected to graduate.

What factors does a court consider in making a college expense order? Assuming there is a
dispute by a parent to contribution to continuing to pay child support to pay toward higher
education, the court sets a hearing. At this hearing, the court receives evidence to decide the
matter by taking into account the child’s aptitude and ability for college; the child’s reasonable
ability to contribute toward educational expenses by working and obtaining loans, as well as
sources of financial aid available to the child and each parent. However, the court must also
consider and balance any order it may make for college expenses against the ability of each parent
to meet these financial obligations.

Are there any consistent ways court’s rule in making higher education orders? Yes. While the
Indiana trial courts have vast discretion to award higher education expenses, there are some trends
in judicial order for parents to pay toward such support; it is somewhat common for a court to
order each parent to pay one-third of the room, board, and tuition cost of a state-supported school,
such as Indiana University or Purdue University. However, every court has discretion to make a
very different award based on the facts it is tasked to consider, such as the educational attributes
of any given child. For this reason, if a child gifted in math and science obtained admission to the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology but did not have the means to pay the educational costs, it
is foreseeable an Indiana trial court judge would go out of his or her way to make it possible if the
evidence supported it. Conversely, it is unlikely a child who did poorly in academics and sought
a higher education award would just automatically be given a higher education award by any given
trial court judge.

A higher education award has significant financial implications for parents. Also, such an award
(or lack of an award) might have profound effects on the life of any given student. For this reason,
there are numerous considerations that each parent must consider, and be willing to litigate. Higher
education awards are generally complex legal matters that may face any given parent. Even
reaching an agreement to a higher education may involve the need for a skilled legal family law
attorney. Ciyou & Associates, P.C. attorneys have extensive experience in family law and are
available to assist you in navigating educational expense matters in and outside the
courtroom. Perhaps we can assist you with this matter? This blog is not written as a solicitation
for services or intended as legal advice for any specific issue.

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