Child support for adult college students, cont’d

by Walter Olson on February 15, 2012

Two years ago a public outcry helped defeat a Virginia proposal that would have required that divorced noncustodial parents continue to support children in college through age 23. (Our post at the time.) Now, as Hans Bader of CEI points out, Maryland’s legislature is considering a bill (up for hearing Feb. 23) to impose this obligation on parents. It doesn’t look as radical as the Virginia bill — the support obligation would only extend through age 21, not 23, for example — and it’s easy to see why it might appeal to the state university and its budgeters, as well as to pro-custodial-parent constituencies in family law. But it still raises some of the same questions of fairness and practicality, given that children past 18 are legally independent and need not be even on speaking terms with the estranged parents, who may be in no financial position to consider, say, finishing their own delayed college plans, yet are expected to foot college bills for their estranged offspring.

{ 21 comments }

1 Bob Neal 02.15.12 at 5:00 pm

South Carolina requires such in certain situations – based not a a statutory requirement, but on a SC Supreme Court opinion.

2 Hugo S. Cunningham 02.15.12 at 7:10 pm

If the parents were married and college-educated, arguably the children should be college-educated as well (an implied condition of the marriage). There is less to be said, however, for post-18 support requirements where there was no marriage.

3 Bumper 02.15.12 at 10:04 pm

This isn’t really news, Hugo is on the right track, I remember in the 60s messing with my dad when a judge ruled that a parent, who had a college degree, had to provide a support for a child’a college under a child support decree. It was upheld at the state’s supreme court level.

The fun part was my dad was a college professor and my parents were still married, and he had every intention of paying for my college years. He just didn’t like the idea that he would “have” to do it. I wonder where I get my conservative bent.

4 Robert 02.15.12 at 10:15 pm

Several states also attempt to extract money from kids to pay for their parents. (Google “filial responsibility laws”.) What makes this complicated is many parents go through elaborate means to transfer money to their kids to be eligible for Medicaid/care

5 Richard Nieporent 02.16.12 at 8:02 am

The concept that parents have a legal duty to pay for their children’s college education is risible. Don’t set the age of majority at 18 if you are going to require parents to pay for college. Also, limiting this obligation only to parents who have a college degree is clearly discriminatory. What if the parents don’t have the funds to send the student to college? Are you going to send them to debtor’s prison? By the way, this comment is coming from someone who paid full freight to send his three sons to Princeton and Duke when they could have gotten a full scholarship to the state school. The difference is that I wanted to do it, not that I was forced to do it.

6 Ron Miler 02.16.12 at 9:07 am

Three sons to Princeton? You have to get props for that. Very cool. I’ve got three small kids. If they all go to Princeton, I’m going to preface every Overlawyered comment with that fact. If I were you, it would be hard to find a non-Princeton t-shirt in my closet.

But the idea that the age of majority has to equal the parents obligation is too black and white. You doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Courts should consider the parents economic situation in making these calls.

I can live with the fact that some parents have to pay for kids that they are not speaking with. I’m not saying it could not lead to some ridiculous outcomes in some cases. Still.

7 Frank 02.16.12 at 9:34 am

I’ve always been disturbed that it is not uncommon to require divorced parents to pay college tuition for their children when, afaik, this requirement has never been imposed on those not divorced.

8 Richard Nieporent 02.16.12 at 10:32 am

Ron, one son went to Princeton and two went to Duke. My point is that society should not establish a right to go to college. First of all, not everybody is college material. Given the abysmal high school graduate rates, clearly we should be worrying more about improving our secondary education before we make everyone go to college. Second, where does it stop. Do we also establish a right to a graduate school/professional school education? Should, as the OWS people demand, make college and graduate school free because it is a “right”? Where is the money going to come from to pay for this “right”?

9 Ron Miler 02.16.12 at 10:52 am

Oh, I did not see the Duke; I have an infatuation with Princeton. (I have never even seen the place; it just sounds idyllic. ) Still, that’s awesome.

Again, I think you are creating false choices. This is not guns or butter. Our abysmal secondary schools have nothing to to with this issue.

Where does it stop? We have to draw the line somewhere. I mean, we could draw in in different places. 16? 21?

No one said it is a right. But I do think – as you probably do- there there is a moral obligation to pay for college for your children if you have the means to do so. And maybe I’m letting that cloud my judgment, I don’t know.

To be clear, I’m only talking about this situation in which wealthier parents split and one of the parents agrees to pay for college.

10 Richard Nieporent 02.16.12 at 11:22 am

To be clear, I’m only talking about this situation in which wealthier parents split and one of the parents agrees to pay for college.

Under that limited circumstance I agree with you, Ron.

You should take a visit to Princeton to see the campus. It is what you would envision a university to look like. The architecture for the Duke campus looks almost identical to the Princeton architecture. I assume that was not a coincidence.

11 No Name Guy 02.16.12 at 12:39 pm

A genetic donors (aka parents) rights and responsibilities are the same no matter their particular situation.

Why is it that a person is divorced can bring about a new responsibility without a corresponding right of control? Why is it that a person who was never married can have obligations that a married genetic donor doesn’t have?

If a married (or say widowed) person can refuse to fund their child’s choice of a worthless “education” (say a double degree in Religion and Womens Studies from NYU at the cost of a 100k, for example – google it), why can’t a divorced or never married genetic donor?

If a married person can (metaphorically) put their boot to the brat’s back side at midnight the day they turn 18 and never provide them another dime, why can’t a person who never married or is divorced from the other genetic donor?

I don’t ever recall ever signing anything when I earned my degree that said as a condition of being awarded the degree that my spawn were entitled to a university education. Where is this in the Constitution? Where is this in the Judeo – Christian tradition that forms the basis of our Law?

Equality under the law. Period.

12 Craig Loehle 02.16.12 at 12:49 pm

Require parents to pay for kids college? Really? Married or not, this is a financial decision that the state should have no say in. How about paying for kids to go to a pricey school when the parents want them to live at home to save money and go to local college–should kids have legal right of extortion on that issue also? Just insane.

13 Diane S. 02.16.12 at 2:43 pm

For federal grants, they will include what the parents make up till in their early 20s. We found that out when the 18 year old who decided to move out, basically a screw you parents, and then wanted us to fill out financial information for her to get a loan. I think it’s ridiculous. Plus the gov’t should get out of the loan dept for students. We told both kids, you don’t shack up with a guy, we will help you with college. But this also goes along with more infantilizing of the teenagers/ over 18 crowd.

14 Ron Miler 02.16.12 at 3:32 pm

Well, technically, there really is no court order that requires you meaningfully provide for your kids beyond their basic needs as a parent living with them. You might make $10 million and year and choose to allow your kids to live in relative squalor. If you bolt on mom (or dad, let’s be fair), your child support payments are going to be a little higher than you had planned. Divorces, like elections, have consequences.

Certainly, the idea of a pricey school or that fact that you don’t speak to the child could all be dealt with by the court.

I do appreciate that it is a bit out of whack that your obligations for something viewed as optional would increase. But stay with me for a second. Clearly, as this scenario plays out, one parent wants to pay for the child’s school. The other does not. It is really compensation is, on some level, to that parent for services rendered under the marriage contract. The rule should not be someone is obligated to pay. It is that if one parents wants to pay, the other should have to chip in.

(Alternatively, I’m letting my feelings about these deadbeats cloud my view of what the law should be. It would not be the first time.)

15 Jim Collins 02.16.12 at 4:03 pm

Robert, the State of Pennsylvania does exactly that. I was on the hook for a bit over $5,600 after my Mother passed away. This was to pay the State back for overpayments that they made to a nursing home. I wouldn’t have minded so much except that I am still trying to get a certain retiree’s association to honor her $25,000 life insurance policy.

16 Bumper 02.16.12 at 5:02 pm

Handwriting on the Wall:

ObamaCare requirement that allows junior to stay on the family health plan until age 23, so he can what? Finish college.

Not everyone needs to, wants to, or perhaps should go to college. A college degree doesn’t seem to have done BO any good…

17 Ron Miler 02.17.12 at 8:53 am

I think the goal is that everyone should go to college. We need garbage collectors too? Sure. But that garbage collector is going to enjoy and get more out of life having the knowledge and experience that comes with college.

There is a lot more to a good life than money.

18 Richard Nieporent 02.17.12 at 10:33 am

I agree, Ron. This should be the model for all garbage collectors:

http://www.dilbert.com/fast/1989-12-05/

Is it really that hard to understand that not everyone is college material? What would be the benefit of having people going to college who don’t have the intellectual capacity to understand what is being taught?

19 Ron Miler 02.17.12 at 11:39 am

Funny.

Some people can’t. I agree. The goal should be getting everyone to a point where they can be successful there. All I’m saying is we should not make the call based solely on whether they will use college to increase their future earnings.

20 No Name Guy 02.17.12 at 12:12 pm

“The goal should be getting everyone to a point where they can be successful there.”

That’s a fools errand Ron. Some people just…. aren’t….. made….. for….. college, period. Just as some people, no matter how hard you try and train them (or how hard they try or want to do it) will never be a successful car mechanic, finish carpenter, welder, pastry chef or machinist. They’re just wired differently – embrace the differences and don’t try and pound the square peg into the round hole. Its destructive to the individual pressured into something they’re doomed to fail at.

21 John 02.18.12 at 8:45 pm

Wow, my parents are still married and didn’t pay a penny or even assist in my college education.

But lucky for me, there are some industries where experience trumps education. There weren’t even books in print at the time for what I went on to specialize in, and 15 years later, have seen more success than many who do have a degree.

We need our government to pursue reforming the quality of education itself, not passing more laws that will likely just add to the inflationary rise in the cost of an education.

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