Posts Tagged ‘support obligation’

OUR CHILD IS GOING TO COLLEGE! WAIT…WHO’S GOING TO PAY FOR THIS?

Thursday, January 24th, 2019

Michael Louvier, J.D.

As of last week my son Nick is a student at Mississippi State and my wife and I, and our entire family for that matter, could not be more proud of him. It is a time that we have experienced before with my daughter, Amy, in 2012, and so maybe we have some perspective on this transition. The family dynamic has changed, of course, as our last child is now “living on his own”.

The family finances have, also, changed; what with another rent payment, new utility bills and the other costs that come with a child “living on his own”. Factor in the books, extra fuel associated with travel, food, lab fees, parking fees, fraternity or sorority dues, etc. etc. All of this and I haven’t even mentioned the most important cost factor: TUITION. Suffice it to say that the tuition and all of the other expenses related to attendance at a four-year university is quite high.

This type of transition can be a very stressful and expensive time for all families. For parents of children whose families are divided by divorce or other circumstances, this new chapter in your life and, more importantly, the life of your child, will be exciting, stressful, and expensive, of course. And so the “million-dollar question is: Who pays for all of this? (It’s not quite a million dollars – it just feels that way).

Whether the parents are no longer married or were never married it should be obvious that a Court Order is best source for guidance on this issue. However, absent specific language in the judgment, this remains an unanswered question. This is not a simple “child-support” matter. Many divorces are settled out of court with the parties agreeing to matters of child custody and child support being contained in a Marital Dissolution Agreement a Property Settlement Agreement. Unfortunately, many of these Agreements do not speak to this issue within the “four corners” of the document. Still others include a generic mention that “non-custodial parent will pay for college” or some equally vanilla and non-descript language.

Perhaps the Agreement was prepared when the child was very young and college was not being contemplated yet. Or maybe it was simply assumed that the parents would “share” these costs and therefore no language about college was included. Whatever the case may be, a child’s decision to go to college may be considered “a material change in circumstances justifying child support modification.” See Lawrence v. Lawrence, 574 So2d 1376 (Miss. 1991). Another interesting and more recent case is Harris v. Porter decided by the Mississippi Court of Appeals in 2016. In Harris, a modification of child support was granted after a showing that the child “clearly showed aptitude for and the potential to benefit from college according to her high-school record” and the father was financially able to help with college expenses.

If you don’t yet know who has to pay, for whatever reason, you should do everything you can to completely identify how much and then try to reduce that amount.One very helpful organization is Get2college.org. There you will find useful information and specifics about the school that you are planning for and the availability of ACT prep courses and study materials. You will also find help with completing your FASFA (Free Application for Federal Aid). You will also want to visit studentaid.ed.gov. It is worth your time and effort to visit these sites in an effort to get any and all the help that is out there for your child.

Your student has some accountability in this also. The higher the GPA, the more scholarships and grants that you may qualify for. Also, a higher ACT score will not surprisingly increase these awards for your student. Remember that the Court in Harris v. Porter used the child’s high school record to determine her aptitude for college. Can we, therefore, assume that if the child had poor grades and a low ACT score that they would not have ordered the father to pay for the costs associated with college? Hard to say, but the Court’s decision was made easier by the high marks earned by the student.

Be happy for and proud of your child for wanting to go to college in spite of the financial burden. Educate yourself about the costs associated with this next step in your child’s life. And seek the guidance and assistance with aid, grants, and scholarships available. In this instance, knowledge truly is power.

Michael Louvier is a graduate of Mississippi College School of Law (1994). He has been married for 28 years (Tammy) and they have 2 children (Amy, 25 and Nick 20).