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Child Support and College Expenses

What Are They? When Can They Be Modified?

Under a recent modification to the age of emancipation under Indiana Law, children are emancipated for child support purposes at the age of nineteen (19)1. However, at age nineteen (19), many children are attending college or other secondary education.

It should be noted under the new statute, that if the child support order is prior to July 1, 2012 (date of the statute modification), the child has until age twenty-one (21) to petition for educational expenses. If the order is from after June 30, 2012, the child only has until age nineteen (19) to petition for same.

The new emancipation age has influenced the issue of educational expenses for children in Indiana. The new emancipation statute carves out a specific exception for education expenses. The law allows for educational financial support to continue past age nineteen (19) with a Court order providing same.

Indiana Child Support Guideline 8(b) defines what college expenses include2. Tuition, books, lab fees, supplies, student activity fees, room and board are all included under educational expenses. Other expenses that may be considered educational expenses include transportation, car insurance, clothing, entertainment, and incidentals expenses.

Indiana caselaw has held that there is no absolute duty for parents to provide a college education for their children3. Indiana also describes what factors are to be examined, including the child’s aptitude and ability to contribute to their educational expenses4.

A recent Court of Appeals case examined the modification of an educational support agreement5. In Svenstrup v. Svenstrup, the parties divorced in 2006 and reached a settlement agreement regarding child support and educational expenses for their older children.

Five (5) years later, in 2011 (when the younger child was eighteen years old), Father filed to modify his child support due to a reduction in income. The Court modified Father’s child support obligation to a lower amount, and Mother filed a petition to allocate college expenses for the younger child.

The evidence showed that the child received financial aid, which exceeded the child’s costs. The Court also noted that Indiana law does not require that all children of the parties be treated equally as to payment of college expenses. And here, as Father’s income had declined, he could not contribute to his younger child at the same rate he had with his other children.

Mother appealed, and the Court of Appeals held that the denial of Mother’s petition for allocation of college expenses before the child turned nineteen (19) and was emancipated could be subject to modification, if there was a later substantial and continuing change in circumstances. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals agreed that Father’s child support obligation could be modified based on his reduced income. Also, the Court held that the college expenses could be modified upon a showing of the proper criteria.

The timing of the petition before the child reached the age of emancipation is key. Therefore, if a petition for educational support is timely filed (before the child reaches nineteen or twenty-one years of age) and denied by the Court, educational support may still be ordered in the future as a modification.

Knowing the boundaries of child support and educational expenses is crucial in determining how to best support your children and protect their interests. We hope that this blog post has been educational as to college expenses and educational support. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. practices throughout the state of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney, Jessica Keyes.

  1. See Indiana Code §31-16-6-6
  2. See rules reference.
  3. Hinesley-Petry v. Petry, 894 N.E.2d 277, 280-281 (Ind.Ct.App 2008).
  4. See Indiana Code §31-16-6-2
  5. See case reference.

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