As college costs continue to rise, many parents are increasingly concerned about how they will pay for their child’s college tuition. This is a reasonable concern that needs to be addressed when child support is being negotiated and before it is ordered by a judge. College expenses can and should be included as part of a divorce, separation or paternity case. A California family law attorney can help you prepare a request for child support that includes college expenses, is fair and will protect your child’s best interests.
The Costs of College Tuition
The costs of attending a private or even public college is beyond what most parents can afford on their own. The situation is further complicated when a child resides at home and is supported by one parent. They may not be able to be classified as an “independent student” meaning that when the student applies for financial aid, their parent’s income will be considered as part of the financial aid package. Depending upon the parent’s income, a student may not qualify for grants or other financial assistance.
Without the support of a parent, many students cannot afford to attend a 4-year college without receiving loans and becoming indebted even before they graduate. In many cases, it is not unreasonable to ask the other parent to contribute to their child’s college expenses. Here is a table of current estimated college expenses from The College Board.org:
California Child Support Law
In California there is no legal requirement for either parent to pay child support for an adult child attending college. Here is what California family law states about children and child support beyond 18 years of age:
Under California law, Ann.Cal.Code Sec. 390, a parent’s obligation to pay support continues until the child becomes 18 years old. However, the current support obligation may continue until the child is 19, if the child is unmarried and attending high school full time. Additionally, Sec. 3910 allows for support of an incapacitated adult child.
As you can see, there is no provision for college tuition or related expenses. Additionally, the California legislature has determined that parents have met their obligation to educate their child by enrolling him or her in public school. This does not include college. But this does not mean that it is not possible or practical to negotiate with the other parent.
Negotiating Child Support
It is not uncommon for parents to agree on school expenses beyond the standard child support that applies in their circumstances. Often this is done for the children while they are minors. But there is no reason the same logic cannot be applied for the purposes of paying for a child’s college education. This is especially true if both or one parent is a high-income earner and it would not be a burden to help their child pay for college.
In summary, the California family law court cannot require the other parent to pay for college. But there are circumstances that may help you negotiate a college plan for your child. It will take some flexibility from both parents and the attitude of working together to ensure their child’s future is protected. It will also require the assistance of a local divorce attorney who can help you understand child support rights and potential outcomes for your case.