Affording College Tuition
Parents preparing to send their children to college face many questions and uncertainties: Will my child be safe? Will she excel in her studies? Will he make lasting friendships? No less important is the question of how you will afford and pay for your child’s education.
This question can be even more stressful for divorced parents or those with non-traditional family structures, as the requirement to contribute financially toward tuition, room and board, books, fees, and associated expenses may be determined by the court and defined in a legally binding agreement.
Married parents are not legally obligated to pay for their children’s college education. However, Indiana family law requires that college costs be addressed in divorce decrees or in modifications to existing decrees. The manner in which each parent contributes depends on a number of factors— primarily the income of each party.
In addition to the cost of schooling, you may encounter other unexpected financial changes when your children reach college age. Recent amendments to Indiana statutes lowered the age of emancipation from 21 to 19 (in most circumstances). Generally, this means that the child support obligation terminates when the child turns 19.
If you were divorced before July 1, 2012, the spouse paying child support may have been compelled to pay until the child reached 21. Consult your court order or settlement agreement as the exact language differs across courts and jurisdictions. If the document reads, “Father to pay child support until Child turns 21 or is emancipated,” Father may not be obligated to continue making support payments past the child’s 19th birthday. However, if the document reads, “Father to pay child support until Child turns 21,” Father may be obligated to continue paying until the child reaches said age.
If you finalized a divorce after July 1, 2012, the new emancipation age may already be incorporated into your agreement or court order. Review your documents to be sure of the exact provisions. When the child turns 19, the parent paying support should file a petition for emancipation. Please note that the obligations to pay child support and to financially contribute towards college costs are two different requirements.
If you are divorced and there is no provision in your divorce documents for college expenses, you must address the issues well before the child turns 19 or you waive your right to do so. If your child is a junior in high school or 17 years old and is considering a college education, now is the time to:
- First, you must assess your financial circumstances;
- Consider whether any part of your divorce decree regarding college expenses should be modified; and
- Seek an attorney in whom you have trust and confidence to assist with these issues as failure to do so could preclude your child from affording college.