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The Divorce Encyclopedia
College Education

Term Definition College Education - a consideration in child support, separation, and divorce.
Application in Divorce The age of emancipation-- that is, when a minor achieves a majority -- is eighteen in most jurisdictions except for the consumption of alcohol. Generally, when a person achieves a majority, he is she is responsible for his or her own actions and affairs. He or she receives the rights of adulthood, including voting, property ownerhsip, entering contracts, marrying. In most jurisdictions, adulthood for these considerations happens at age eighteen.

In divorce actions, where a college education is a consideration, a lawful majority does not end the financial obligations of parents. Separation agreements, therefore, should reflect the payment of a college education and health insurance coverage. All the states provide that parents may establish a college support obligation as part of the separation agreement and these are enforceable in court as contracts.

Some jurisdictions consider emancipation to be 18 to 23 to allow for support through college. Massachusetts, for example, statutorily states that the age of emancipation is 23 "if [a] child is enrolled in an education program."

Not all jurisdictions hold divorced parents liable for college expenses beyond the age of emancipation because they are bound by the common law view that parental responsibility ends with majority. In other jurisdictions, courts have permitted support to continue when the age of majority is higher than eighteen, and courts in some states have permitted college support without legislative sanction.

The question of college support for the children of broken marriages came about in an ironic way and is fairly recent. Until 1972, with the passage of the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, the age of majority was 21, and children received college support "without comment," as one observer put it. After the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, most states lowered the age of majority for most purposes to eighteen, and about the same time, no-fault divorce caused an increase in divorce rates.

An increasing number of states now hold that parents are responsible for the educational support of their children beyond the age of emancipation. Care should be taken in marital separation agreements to define emancipation in a way that considers college for children still at home. Moreover, college for many young people is now often punctuated by breaks and is no longer a start-to-finish project completed in four years at one place.

In deciding child support for college, courts consider a number of factors, including the choice of the college (that is, public versus private) and whether that choice is reasonable (considering the finances of the parents); the cost of the school; and the time of the expenses (that is, an adult dependent may not draw out his education indefinitely).

In general, in deciding education support issues, courts "make the decision that would have been made if [the parents] were living together as an intact nuclear family."

Sometimes the question of public versus private schools can be difficult. A child attending a private school must demonstrate some advantage to that school rather than a public institution in his or her state of residence.

See Majority; Minority; Emancipation.

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