Child Support vs. College Support by Jennifer Hostetter

In July of 2012, Indiana law on child support and post-secondary education expenses drastically changed. Indiana code section 31-16-6-6 governs the termination of child support and the emancipation of a child for the purposes of a parent’s child support obligation. Prior to July 1, 2012, child support, including the obligation to pay educational expenses, terminated when the child turned twenty one years of age. Now, when a child turns nineteen years old, support terminates, but that does not necessarily include the support for educational needs. There is still the potential for an order for post-secondary education expenses. It is extremely important to understand the effects this change has because there are specific time frames to follow now that if not followed could prevent the award of post-secondary education expenses.

Recently in Neal v. Neal, the Indiana Court of Appeals determined that the language in Indiana Code section 31-16-6-6, referring to “established child support orders” means the most recent order establishing a child support obligation and not the original order establishing child support. Depending on when the most recent order establishing a child support obligation was implemented, a parent, a child’s guardian, or the child has until the age of nineteen or twenty-one to petition the court for post-secondary expenses. If the most recent child support order was implemented prior to July 1, 2012, the parties have until the child is twenty-one to petition the court, but if the most recent order was implemented after July 1, 2012, the parties only have until the child reaches the age of nineteen.

The court has the discretion in awarding post-secondary educational expenses and in what amount. Typically, the courts consider the amount the child can contribute to their education and the ability of each of the parents. The court also has discretion in dictating what should be considered an education expenses. Typically, this includes tuition, books, lab fees, supplies, student activity fees, and room and board. However, this is not an exhaustive list and some courts have included items such as car insurance or health insurance. If pursuing post-secondary education expenses, it is important to provide the courts with documentation of all of the expected expenses, and the child’s ability to receive any scholarships, grants, or federal financial assistance.

It is important to consult with an attorney about your options in a timely manner. They will be able to guide you on any deadlines that things need to be done by and will be able to assist you in terminating child support or requesting post-secondary education expenses.