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How Is Post-Secondary Child Support Determined?

Many parents think that child support ends when a child turns 18 or graduates high school. And most of those parents would be right. But a few of them may be shocked to learn that they are also on the hook for post-secondary child support, also known as "college tuition."

Certain states allow courts to award post-secondary or post-minority support beyond the age of majority (18 in most states). So how are these awards determined?

State Support Laws

State laws on post-secondary or college support can vary widely:

  • Alaska prohibits courts from imposing a duty to provide college support.
  • Arizona has no specific statutes regarding college support, but courts will enforce agreements to provide such support.
  • Massachusetts allows courts to order college support until a child is 23.
  • Missouri mandates that support will continue as long as a child is enrolled in an institution of higher education or reaches the age of 22, whichever comes first.

The laws in your state may be different, and parents are often allowed to craft their own child support agreements, so long as the arrangements are in the best interest of the child. So you may not be obligated to pay post-secondary support. But if you are, there are different ways that support can be calculated.

Educational Amounts

If college support is already included in a child support agreement, the parties have been able to negotiate how much will be set aside for post-secondary education, and how much each parent is responsible for. (These agreements and amounts can be amended as circumstances change, but almost all will require judicial approval.)

And if the support is ordered by the court, judges will often take into account a variety of factors -- tuition and fees, chief among them -- when calculating the amount owed. For instance, in Washington, courts must consider:

Age of the child; the child's needs; the expectations of the parties for their children when the parents were together; the child's prospects, desires, aptitudes, abilities or disabilities; the nature of the postsecondary education sought; and the parents' level of education, standard of living, and current and future resources [as well as] the amount and type of support that the child would have been afforded if the parents had stayed together.

Washington law also advises that post-secondary support payments should be made directly to the educational institution, if possible. If not, parents may need to make payments to the child.

Sorting out child support can be complicated, both emotionally and legally. Contact a local child support attorney for help.

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