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What Is the Parental Responsibility for the Payment of Higher Education Expenses After a Divorce?

On Behalf of | Jul 28, 2022 | Family Law

In Indiana, trial courts can order parents to pay higher education expenses after a divorce. A child attending college can be a significant expense. Divorce can make it more difficult to pay for college expenses. Parents may have different opinions on how to allocate the responsibility during or after the divorce proceedings. The manner in which Indiana courts determine what each parent contributes depends on several factors. There are time-sensitive deadlines for petitioning the courts for college educational support for children. Read on to learn more about parental responsibility for the payment of higher education expenses after divorce.

Are Divorced Parents Legally Obligated to Pay for Their Child’s College Education and Related Expenses?

College planning is a crucial decision for families that requires much planning. It can be stressful for individuals who are divorced. Given the costs involved, college education and related expenses will likely need the contribution of both ex-spouses. Divorced parents may or may not be legally obligated to pay for a child’s higher education expenses. Such obligations will depend on their divorce settlement terms and the state where they reside.

Parents may address college educational expenses during the divorce process. The divorce settlement will contain how much each parent will be responsible for and the duration of the obligation. Such an agreement is legally binding, putting further significance on the role of contracts in divorce.

In some states, divorced parents have to pay for higher education expenses after divorce. In others, parents do not have to pay for the expenses because they are viewed as conditional expenses.

What Are the Laws in Indiana on the Parental responsibility for the Payment of Higher Education Expenses?

Indiana law allows a custodial parent to request an order to have the noncustodial parent contribute toward a child’s post-secondary educational expenses. They may take this step unable to agree on the issue. Indiana courts can order divorced spouses to pay a portion of a child’s college expenses. The courts cannot order parents who are still married to pay for their children’s college costs. This statute aims to ensure the children of never married or divorced parents are not unjustly denied opportunities that would be available to them if their parents were married.


One important reason you should learn about how to get divorced in Indiana is the rules and timelines that exist. If you want to request the court to order your former spouse to pay toward your child’s college expenses, you have to do that within a particular time. On July 1, 2012, the state legislature changed the age of emancipation in divorce and paternity cases from 21 to 19. It also changed the age by which you can ask for an order for the payment of higher education expenses.

Under the amended statute, children under the age of 19 and parents can file a petition seeking contributions for college expenses before the child reaches 19 years. If you fail to file a petition with the court within that period, you will lose your ability to request contributions. The party against whom you are seeking educational support can argue that you filed the petition too late and might not have to contribute anything.

The amended law could be confusing if you got divorced before July 1, 2012. You may wonder if you have until your child reaches 21 or 19 to file a petition. To be on the safer side, you should consult a family law attorney and file the petition before your child turns 19.

Ideally, you should assess your financial circumstances and consider whether you should have your divorce decree on college expenses modified late in your child’s junior or early in his or her high school senior year. Develop a plan with the help of an Indiana family law attorney to avoid delays or problems later. An attorney specializing in family law can help you start discussions with your former spouse on how to divide the expenses and decide what to include.

Even if you agree with your former spouse on how to share college expenses, you should file that agreement with the court. If the other party stops following the informal agreement and, by then, your child is over 19, you will miss the opportunity to pursue the college contributions for your child under the amended law.

What Factors Do Courts Consider When Determining Support Payments for Higher Education?

Parents can reach a compromise concerning payment of higher education expenses out of court. The court will weigh several factors to determine what a fair contribution from the parents should be toward the higher education costs. That could lead to an order that each parent and the child himself or herself pay one-third of the expense. Alternatively, one parent could be allocated the responsibility to pay the larger share of the costs.

The factors that the court considers include:

The Financial Ability of the Parents

Courts look at the ability of each parent to meet the child’s college expenses to determine what each party should contribute. They consider financial resources like savings, income, and investments.

For example, if you are divorcing a millionaire and he or she has a significantly greater income than you, then he or she could be ordered to pay a larger portion of the college expenses. If the court finds that a party lacks much or any disposable income after paying for his or her reasonable living expenses, then the court is unlikely to order the parent to contribute to the college expenses.

Simply testifying that you are unable to pay for the expenses or that a particular apportionment of the costs is unfair will not help you achieve your legal objective. You will need to present evidence that maximizes your position on why and how college education expenses should be allocated, typically with the help of a family law attorney.

The Child’s College Aptitude and Ability

The court will also consider your child’s ability and aptitude. Your child should have the ability, plan, and desire to attend a post-secondary educational institution. The court may consider your child’s probability of succeeding at the institution. For example, your child’s grades have been well above average. With this in mind, the court will be more likely to order you to contribute to your child’s educational expenses.

Standard of Living if Parents Were Still Married

The court will determine the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if you did not dissolve your marriage. If you are the parent seeking the college expense, you will need to compile facts on your family’s customs and lifestyle. These will need to demonstrate that if you and your former spouse had remained married, your child would have gone to college, and you would have contributed to the expenses.

Without significant effort and diligence, the evidence you present could show that college education or contribution would not have occurred if you were still married.

Child’s Relationship With Parent

A potential consequence of divorce, especially if you do not know how to explain divorce to your kids, is a significant decline in the quality of a parent-child relationship. Repudiation occurs when a child completely refuses to participate in a parent/child relationship with a parent. When an adult child repudiates a parent, the parent can be relieved of the duty to pay the child’s college education expenses.

How Does Financial Aid Factor into Parental Responsibility for Higher Education Expenses?

The courts also consider financial aid availability and other ways your child can contribute to his or her educational expenses. Financial aid reduces higher education expenses for parents. The court often requires a child to apply for loans, grants, and other forms of financial aid. Doing this often aids in keeping the costs low for all the parties involved.

What Constitutes College Educational Expenses?

What has considered educational expenses vary among Indiana courts? Generally, the expenses are required to be reasonable and essential to your child’s education. Typical educational expenses in most cases include:

  • Tuition
  • Book fees
  • Room and board expenses
  • Health care
  • Transportation
  • General living expenses

The parties involved can agree to include other expenses they would like to cover for a child. An attorney can provide more guidance on adding other educational expenses to your child support payments.

Simultaneous Payment of Educational Needs and Child Support

Educational and child support orders can happen simultaneously. The Indiana Code requires child support payments to be reduced if they are duplicated by the parental responsibility for the payment of higher education expenses and would have otherwise been paid to custodial parents.

For example, suppose you were ordered to pay your child’s room and board expenses while he or she is at college. Making child support payments as though the child was being housed and fed by the custodial parent for the same number of overnights as before he or she started living at college would create duplicate child support expenses.