Sending your child to college when they graduate from high school is an exciting moment, full of pride and joy. In the mix of stress and relief, this is one of their major steps towards adulthood and independence. For divorced parents, this can also be a time to reassess their child support payments — to adjust it or attempt to stop it altogether. This article will cover the standard forms of child support, how to make adjustments, and why having a child go to college might necessitate changes in your child support agreement.
Child Support in Alabama
In our state, child support is based on Rule 32 of Judicial Administration and the Income Shares model. Through these two guidelines, courts may order either parent to provide child support, unless one party can make the case that the amount is unreasonable in some way. Courts do allow for some room for negotiation in these matters. Rule 32 outlines five non-exclusive reasons that courts may or may not deviate from the guidelines, and one in particular states that courts have latitude with “expenses of college education incurred prior to a child’s reaching the age of majority.”
Generally speaking, the requirement to pay child support in Alabama ends when a child turns 19. Of note, however, is that as of 2013, parents are no longer required to pay for college tuition as part of child support, though they can agree to do so. Since some children start college as young as 17, we can see that there is at most two years where the other spouse is required to continue providing non-tuition based child support for the minor child who would also happen to be a college student.
Changing Your Child Support Agreement When Your Child Goes to College
It is not unusual for divorced parents to meet and revise their child support arrangement when their child matriculates. The additional expenses that go along with college life are justifiable reasons to want to make this change, since they may be many thousands of dollars above the previously agreed to terms that were established when the parents first divorced. With the exemption of tuition, there are dorm or apartment costs, books and other associated costs, and perhaps even health insurance. These expenses are burdensome for parents who are not divorced, so for parents who are and are working within the confines of their previously established child support agreement things become more complicated.
Firstly, if you are the one paying child support it is important to not take it upon yourself to lower payments on your own. Child support is legally binding through a court order, and must be modified through the courts. Second, you need to bear in mind that the standard costs associated with your child support agreement are not necessarily negated once your child goes to college. Until they reach the age of majority (19), there will still be times when college is not in session where your child will be living at home. However, if your child is living in their own apartment, that would certainly be justifiable grounds to change the child support agreement, since there would no longer be a need for your spouse to maintain a space for your child.
When it gets to the point where you and your former spouse are able to negotiate changes in your child support arrangement, you should take into account your child’s age upon enrollment, any extra expenses that would not work within your budget, what their living arrangements are, and what the Income Shares model would calculate based on your new realities. Doing so can bring you closer to modifying or even ending your child support arrangement.