College Education Support Orders in Connecticut – By Kate W. Haakonsen

When can the court order educational support?

Unless the parties file a written agreement to pay support for college education expenses, known as educational support, the court can make an order of educational support only if requested by one of the parties by motion or petition. This can be done when the case is filed or any time before a judgment is entered. At the time that a judgment of divorce or legal separation is entered, the court must enter an order or reserve jurisdiction to make an order at a later date. Otherwise, the right to request an educational support order must be waived by both parties on the court record. In cases between unmarried parents, parents may seek an order anytime before a child reaches the age of 23. Before an educational support order can be entered, the judge must find that the parents would have contributed to the post high school education of the child if the family had been intact. There are not enough published court decisions yet to indicate what evidence a court will consider to prove that the parents would have provided such support. This remains an area of uncertainty best addressed by an agreement between the parties.

What payments can the court order?

The court may order payment of necessary expenses listed in the statute including room, board, dues, tuition, fees, registration and application costs for four years of undergraduate or vocational school for children under the age of 23. But the court may not order parents to contribute more than the cost for a fulltime student attending the University of Connecticut for the same year.

Orders are based a number of financial considerations which are spelled out in the statute: (1) The parents’ income, assets and other obligations, including obligations to other dependents; (2) the child’s need for support to attend an institution of higher education or private occupational school considering the child’s assets and the child’s ability to earn income; (3) the availability of financial aid from other sources, including grants and loans; (4) the reasonableness of the higher education to be funded considering the child’s academic record and the financial resources available; (5) the child’s preparation for, aptitude for and commitment to higher education; and (6) evidence, if any, of the institution of higher education or private occupational school the child would attend.

There are also specific requirements that the child must meet in order to receive the support. The child has no right to request or enforce the support order; only the parent can do so.

To whom may payments for educational support be made?

The court may order payments to be made to one of the parties or directly to the school or as if sees fit.

What if we agree to do more?

The statute described above applies to cases where the parents do not have an agreement and have requested an educational support order be entered by the court after a trial of the issue. Of course, parents may, and often do, enter into written agreements for the payment of college education or other post majority support in any amount they choose, and their agreement can set forth the specific terms and conditions they agree upon including payments which exceed the costs for the University of Connecticut. Written educational support or post majority support orders are subject to modification in the event of a substantial change in circumstances in the same way that child support orders for minor children can be modified upon the motion of either party, but only in cases where judgment was entered on or after October 1, 2001. Agreements entered before October 1, 2001 can be modified only by agreement of the parties.

Can I ask for an educational support order or other post 18 support if I am already divorced?

The availability of child support beyond a child’s 18th birthday is a matter of timing, in this case the date the parents were divorced. Before the age of majority was reduced from 21 to 18 in 1972, child support was available to age 21, which covered all or most of the college years for many children of divorce. Although the legislature was not intentionally reducing parents’ support obligation when it lowered the age of majority, the court soon ruled that it had done just that. Several laws have been passed since 1990 that have extended parents’ support obligations beyond the age of 18. However, for Constitutional reasons, each of these laws applies only to divorce judgments that are entered on or after the effective date of each law.

In cases where judgment entered on or after July 1, 1994, parents may be ordered to provide support for an unmarried child attending high school up to the age of 19 or high school graduation, whichever occurs first.

Parents may be ordered to support a child who is mentally retarded or physically disabled, as defined by statute, up until the child reaches age 21, but only if the parents were divorced on or after October 1, 1997.

Effective October 1, 2002, in cases of divorce or legal separation or new support orders entered between parents who were never married, the court may order parents to contribute to the post high school education expenses of their children up to the age of 23. Prior to October 1, 2002, such orders could be entered only by written agreement of the parties.

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