In 2012, Indiana lowered the age of emancipation for child support purposes from age twenty-one to age nineteen. As such, a child support obligation for a minor child terminates on his or her nineteenth birthday. Since a child normally graduates high school, moves out, and/or attends college between the ages of seventeen and nineteen, child support obligations can become complicated during these transitions.
One obstacle parents are faced with is contributing to their child’s education, and how that relates to their obligation to financially provide for their child. There is a distinct difference between a child support obligation and an order to provide for a child’s post-secondary educational expenses. A post-secondary educational expenses order can continue past the age of emancipation. In fact, a post-secondary educational expense order must be entered before the child’s nineteenth birthday if child support was ordered or modified after June 30, 2012, when Indiana changed the age of emancipation. If the last child support order or modification was before June 30, 2012, the petition for educational support can be filed until the child turns twenty-one, the former age of emancipation.
The Court is given discretion through statute (Indiana Code 31-16-6-2) to make a post-secondary educational expenses order when the Court finds it to be appropriate. The Court will consider the following factors when making a post-secondary educational expenses order: the child’s aptitude and ability; the child’s reasonable ability to contribute to educational expenses through work, obtaining loans, and obtaining other sources of financial aid reasonably available to the child and each parent; and the ability of each parent to meet these expenses.
The Court normally views the payment of post-secondary educational expenses as a shared responsibility between the parents and the child attending college, ordering all three parties to make a contribution to the expenses on a pro rata basis. The Court will consider each parent’s income, earning ability, and financial assets and liabilities when considering the parent’s reasonable ability to contribute to their child’s post-secondary educational expenses. The court should not order a parent to contribute to these expenses if contributing would be a substantial financial burden or if the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) has the expected parental contribution as zero.
The child will most likely be required by the Court to apply for all available financial aid, grants, and loans, and the Court will take into consideration the child’s summer and school year employment. Any financial aid or grants received will be credited to the child’s share of the expenses unless the Court orders otherwise. The Court may additionally order the children to maintain a certain grade point average, to provide his or her parents with report cards at the end of each semester, and to provide receipts for the incurred educational expenses.
Educational expenses that the Court will determine as necessary for the parent’s contribution may include tuition, books, fees, supplies, student activity fees, and room and board if the Child is not residing with a parent. The Court may limit the parent’s contribution to a state supported college, like Indiana University or Purdue, if the child chooses to attend a private university or an out-of-state school. The Indiana Supreme Court recently ruled that a post-secondary educational expenses order under Indiana Code 31-16-6-2 does not include graduate or professional school expenses. Any award for post-secondary educational expenses will be limited to the child’s undergraduate education.
While post-secondary educational expenses order are distinct from child support obligations, the Court can reduce or terminate a parent’s child support obligation if the child attending college is under the age of nineteen and no longer residing at home. Navigating a parent’s financial obligations for a child as they graduate high school, move out, or begin college can be difficult for parents. The attorneys at Slotegraaf Niehoff, P.C., are experienced in assisting parents with these transitions and the resulting financial obligations that may occur.