Four Critical Concepts for Post-Secondary Expenses
College costs and other post-secondary expenses continue to rise, and articles about these increasing costs and the growing debt that many students come out of college with are nearly everywhere you look. In fact, apart from buying a home, attending college or another type of post-secondary institution may be the biggest expense that one has in their life. Sometimes, the divorced parents of a child who plans on attending college or another post-secondary institution may have very different opinions about what they believe their respective roles should be in terms of their financial contributions to education. Because of the expense involved, college and/or post-secondary education expenses can become a contested issue either during or after a divorce proceeding. This blog covers some things you may not know about what impact your divorce may have on post-secondary expenses and why possibly hiring an attorney who is well-versed in family law may result in a favorable ruling for you or help you avoid many of the pitfalls that are present with this area of the law.
- Indiana courts have the authority to order divorced parents to pay for post-secondary educational expenses. The fact that Indiana courts can order divorced parents to pay for post-secondary educational expenses while the courts may not have the same authority to order a married couple to do so seems odd. However, this is precisely how the law in Indiana works. Under Indiana Code § 31-16-6-2, it is discretionary with the court to award post-secondary educational expenses and in what amount when the parties are divorced. This is not true of a married couple who have children – that is, if a married couple does not want to pay for their child’s post-secondary education, they don’t have to do so. It has been argued that this violates equal protection under the law, meaning that laws that treat people differently without a good reason for doing so should not be enforced. However, the Supreme Court of the State of Indiana has rejected this argument, reasoning that courts should be able to promote children going to college and that parents should want to help their children in obtaining a good education. Additionally, many people are under the mistaken impression that once a child turns eighteen (18) years old, they have no further obligation toward that child. This is not necessarily true. Understanding these concepts and making a plan with a family law attorney can greatly reduce the risk of a court entering an order for post-secondary expenses for which you did not plan.
- The timing for asking a court to award post-secondary education expenses is very important. Perhaps the most important reason to be aware of the rules and guidelines surrounding post-secondary education expenses is that if you are a parent asking a court to order your ex-spouse to pay, you have to do so within a certain time. First, if an order for child support was issued before July 1, 2012, a petition for educational support has to be filed until the child reaches twenty-one (21) years of age. If the child support order was issued after June 30, 2012, a petition for educational support has to be filed until the child reaches nineteen (19) years of age. If it is not done in these time periods, the parent against whom the educational support order is sought can argue that it was filed too late and may not have to pay anything. This happens all too often when couples with young children divorce and then fail to review or modify their divorce decree/dissolution agreement as the children age. Consulting a family law attorney to develop a plan as children approach high school graduation is frequently a great idea to avoid problems down the road.
- How a court determines the amount of post-secondary expenses is complex, and it is important to be prepared. By statute, if the issue is not resolved, the court must consider (1) the ability and aptitude of the child, (2) the child’s ability to contribute to college expenses, and (3) the parent’s ability to contribute to college expenses. This could result in an order that the parents and the child divide the expenses amongst themselves, with each parent and the child paying one-third of the costs, or it could mean that the parent with the greater income is ordered to pay a larger share of the expenses. The child’s required contribution will include any scholarships, grants, and loans awarded to the child, as well as considering in the order if the college selection and cost is relative to other schools and cost is reasonable. Also, if a court determines that an award of post-secondary educational expenses would impose a substantial financial burden on the parents, it may not order an award at all. However, for you to maximize your position as a parent on how the contribution should be made and why, you must carefully prepare your evidence. Thus, it is crucial you prepare for trial with counsel and give the court the evidence it needs to reach your legal objective or goal.
- Post-secondary education expenses may mean more than tuition.With this framework for how a court decides college expenses, it is key to understand the scope of what may constitute college expenses. Within Indiana courts, there is a vast difference between courts on what they consider to be included in the definition of education expenses. They have this discretion. The general guiding legal requirement is that the expense be reasonable and necessary to the child’s education. Some courts will limit this to room and board, tuition, book fees, supplies, and student activity fees. Other courts have included costs such as study abroad expenses, costs related to internships, health care for the child, transportation, car insurance, and clothing. However, for the court to craft a proper order, the expenses must be connected in the evidence to the child’s educational needs or the trial court abuses its discretion. Thus, with counsel, it is key to know your particular venue and the general views on college expenses and carefully put on evidence as to why a claimed expense is or is not relative to a college expense.
If you are a divorced parent with a child that plans to attend college, you should contact an attorney to discuss your potential obligation for college expenses. You should act as soon as possible so that you can (1) prepare financially, (2) preserve any deadlines you may be facing, and (3) start a discussion with your former spouse as to how expenses will be divided and what will be included. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys practice throughout the State of Indiana and understand the financial issues surrounding paying for a child’s college education and they actively negotiate and litigate college expense cases. This blog post is written by Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys and is not intended as specific legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.