Are Non-custodial Parents Responsible for College Expenses in Connecticut?

It can be challenging to contemplate future plans when a person is undergoing a divorce that involves children. It is remarkable how quickly kids seem to grow up, and in the blink of an eye, they will be considering various options for college or another post-secondary training course.

Your divorce process in these situations may or may not include planning for college tuition. Many states are finding that it is unconstitutional for the State to order divorced parents to pay post-majority educational support. The argument is that since the State cannot order parents who choose to remain married to pay post-majority education support for children, it cannot order divorced parents to do so because violates the Equal Protection laws of the constitution. Connecticut General Statute Sec 46b-84(b) states that support terminates at 18 unless the child is still in high school, unmarried, and still lives with one of the parents, then support continues until the child completes the 12th grade or turns 19, whichever comes first. If, however, there is a specific agreement between the parties, then the court may order support. The key here is that parents must agree to either waive their right to request a post-majority support order or they must agree to allow the court to do so. It is imperative for parents to understand what this means and why it is important.  

  1. Both of the parties may make a knowing and intelligent waiver of their right to request a post-majority educational support order.

Parents may choose not to have the court make a post-majority educational support order, and if they choose this option, the court has no jurisdiction to do so once the child turns 18 or meets the criteria listed above. This option does not restrict parents from paying for or helping their children pay for college or living expenses in the future. It just means the court has no right to interfere if parents cannot agree about how that is done.

  • The parties may ask the Court to find that it is more likely than not that they would have provided post-majority educational support if the family were intact, and to enter an order for such support.

Parents may choose, at the time of the divorce, to have the court make an order pertaining to post-majority educational expenses, which it will do based on the financial circumstances of the parties at that time. This is not always the best option because circumstances change and if the divorce happens when the children are very young, the probability that either or both parties’ financial circumstances will change is high.

  • The parties may ask the Court to find that it is more likely than not that they would have provided post-majority educational support if the family were intact, and for the court to reserve jurisdiction to determine at a later date whether to enter a post-majority educational support order and the terms of the order.

Contrary to the option above, this choice gives the court the right to reserve jurisdiction to decide whether to make an order for post-majority educational support at a later date, but it still requires the court to make a determination, at the time of the divorce, that the parties would have provided it had they remained married. In essence, this is an agreement between the parties to provide support where the court has the option based on the circumstances at the time.

  • The parties may ask the Court to reserve jurisdiction to determine at a later date whether a post-majority educational support should issue and the terms of that order.

This is the most popular option and it allows the court to make a determination later on if an order should be made and if so, the terms thereof. The difference with this option and the previous one is that the parties are not agreeing, at the time of the divorce, that it is more likely than not that they would have provided post-majority support if they remained married. Rather, they are only agreeing to the right of the Court to reserve its jurisdiction to make the determination.

So, assuming that the parties agree to allow the Court to make a determination for post-majority educational support, what does that mean?

Under Connecticut law, a judge can order both parents (the custodial as well as the noncustodial parent) to pay for the college education expenses of their children. This is why it is imperative for parents to understand these options and why they are important.

The legal responsibility of non-custodial parents in Connecticut to pay child support for their “children” includes college tuition and expenses (partial or in whole). In general, a loss or decrease in the income of the non-custodial parent does not absolve them from the legal duty to pay for their child’s college expenses.

Educational Support Orders

When a child reaches the age of 18 or is emancipated, child support orders typically end. Connecticut law allows courts to order divorcing parents (including fathers who are subject to paternity orders) to continue to pay child support until their offspring are 23 years old if their kids attend a college or are enrolled in a vocational training course.

Educational support orders may include expenses such as board, room, fees, books, tuition, medical and dental care, and application costs. This order may require one parent to pay the money to the other parent, or directly to the educational institution itself.

To determine educational support orders, a court will consider various aspects, such as:

  • The income, assets, and liabilities of each parent
  • The child’s needs for support to enroll in school, including the earning capability of the child
  • The possibility of acquiring financial aid from sources such as loans and grants
  • The feasibility of funding the child’s higher education, depending on the family’s financial condition and the child’s academic record
  • If the parents would have paid for the education of the child if they were still together as a family unit
  • The commitment of the child to higher education
  • Evidence about the educational institution that the child will attend

Financial Aid following Divorce

Financial aid becomes necessary for many students and parents to be able to bear education costs due to the high cost of college. The process of obtaining financial aid can be slightly more complicated when the parents of a child are divorced. To be able to be eligible for federal student financial aid, the parents will be required to complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. This form should be filled out by the custodial parent.

The FAFSA will ask for comprehensive financial information to establish the eligibility of your child for aid. If the custodial parent has remarried, the income of the new spouse will be considered in this determination. The income of the ex-spouse will not be a part of this calculation. Which parent completes the FAFSA will make a difference as it will affect the amount of financial aid that a student will qualify for.

In many private universities, students are required to complete the College Scholarship Service Profile to establish whether they are eligible for non-federal financial aid. But unlike FAFSA, the profile requires information from the custodial as well as the noncustodial parent.

In individual schools that use the Profile, the new spouses’ earnings are also taken into account along with other aspects such as the duration that the parents of the student have been divorced to determine their eligibility for financial aid.

Guidelines for Child Support under Connecticut Law

Connecticut courts use the updated version of the Connecticut Child Support and Arrearage Guidelines to determine child support payments.

As long as one parent has primary custody, and the other parent has a reasonably standard visitation schedule (such as some vacation time, alternating weekends and holiday, and perhaps some additional brief visits), the child support obligation of the noncustodial parent may be assessed by evaluating the guidelines and filling out the included Worksheet (Form CCSG-1).

Shared Physical Custody

If each parent spends significantly more time with a child than the standard visitation schedule discussed above, they share physical custody of the child. There is no requirement for a specific number of days or exactly equal time to be spent with the child, only something that approaches equal time.

The court will sometimes allow reduced payment of the noncustodial parent in a shared custody arrangement, however, this usually occurs only if the parenting arrangement alters how the parents divide childcare and other related expenses.

Summarily, if the parents share almost equal time with the child, but the custodial parent bears most of the child-related expenses, the court will likely not order a reduction absent a showing that the deviation meets an acceptable exception or is in the child’s best interest. The reduction also cannot be to the extent that the custodial parent does not have sufficient funds to meet the basic needs of the child.

Consult a Skilled Divorce Attorney in Connecticut

It is complicated to plan for college and apply for financial aid. Divorce can make this process even more challenging. For people considering divorce, it is vital to include college planning in the process of divorce to ensure that problems do not arise in the future.

The experienced divorce lawyers at APEX Law Firm, LLC, can help address your questions and concerns about divorce and college planning. Call (860) 900-0900 today for a free consultation with a qualified attorney.