A few years ago, a New Jersey teenager made headlines after she sued her estranged parents for college tuition money. The claims were eventually dropped, but the fact that the judge didn’t immediately toss the suit sent shockwaves through the legal world. Everyone began to wonder if in today’s world, where a majority of young adults want or need some sort of post-high school training, it is possible that parents could be held responsible for paying child support well after a child turns 18.
In Pennsylvania, it is fairly clear that parents cannot be forced to pay for a child’s education after the child has turned 18 or graduated from high school. The only exception being if the child has special needs and needs continued supervision or special care.
But this was not always the case, for a brief time in the 1990’s, divorced parents could be forced to chip in if Junior wanted to go to college. Under Pennsylvania’s Act 62, 23 Pa. C.S. § 4327, a court could order separated, divorced, unmarried to share the responsibility of paying for a child’s post-high school education.
This law was challenged by a man named Philip Kline, who did not believe the government should be able to tell him how to spend his money. Kline argued that the courts should not be able to force him to pay for his estranged daughter’s education because parents who are still married to one another cannot be ordered to make such payments.
The case went all the way up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which agreed with Mr. Kline that the law was a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. Divorced parents cannot be treated differently than married parents.
Unless the legislature passes a new law treating all parents equally, or the court decides to overturn its previous decision, parents in Pennsylvania cannot typically be forced to pay for post-secondary education.
As mentioned above, there is an exception if the child has special needs. In situations like that, the separation agreement typically specifies what support will continue beyond age 18. If your child does not have special needs, his or her college costs will only be shared by the non-custodial parent if the written marital settlement agreement says so.
If you are thinking about getting divorced, you should think carefully about what you want you or your spouse to formally promise to do for your children in the future.
If you are the custodial parent, it is your assets that will be used to calculate financial need on the FAFSA. The noncustodial parent’s assets are not typically considered, unless a private institution required that they be disclosed.
If you are the noncustodial parent, and you want to help pay for your child’s college education you should think carefully about putting your intentions in writing. You can still provide support if your marital settlement agreement says nothing about college, but you will be forced to provide support if it does say something.
We all want the best for our children, but the rising cost of college gives many parents pause. If you have questions about paying for your child’s post-high school education, please contact our office to schedule an appointment.