October 29, 2002
CONNECTICUT'S POST-MAJORITY EDUCATIONAL SUPPORT LAW
By: Susan Price-Livingston, Associate Attorney
You asked for a summary of PA 02-128, the new law that permits courts to order divorced, separated, or unmarried parents to support children while they are in college or other post-high school vocational or educational programs.
PA 02-128, which went into effect October 1, 2002, permits judges and family support magistrates to order parents to support their children enrolled in accredited post-secondary schools for up to four full academic years and until they reach age 23.
Courts can do this only if they find it more likely than not that the parents would have provided this support if the family remained intact. The act specifies other circumstances courts must consider and conditions the parents and students must satisfy.
The act states that it does not give children the right to sue their parents for educational support and that its coverage does not include support for graduate or post-graduate studies. It applies to cases where the first child support order is entered on or after October 1, 2002.
EDUCATIONAL SUPPORT ORDERS
Under the act, a court can enter an educational support order at a parent's request when it enters a (1) divorce, legal separation, or annulment decree; (2) pendente lite order (temporary support while a divorce case is pending); or (3) support order in a paternity matter or other situation where the parents live apart. It can order educational support at any time before the child's 23rd birthday in cases where the parents never married or are living apart.
When entering a divorce, separation, or annulment decree involving parents who have offspring under age 23 that does not include educational support, the magistrate or judge must tell the parents that they will not be able to seek this type of support at a later date. The court may accept parents' waiver of future educational support rights only if it finds that they understand its consequences.
Contents of Orders
Orders may include support for any necessary educational expense, including room, board, dues, tuition, fees, registration, and application costs. But such expenses cannot exceed the amount UConn charges full-time, in-state students at the time the child covered by the order enrolls, unless the parents agree to pay more. Orders can also include the costs of books and the child's medical insurance.
The court can order that payments be made (1) to a parent to be forwarded to the college or school, (2) directly to the educational institution, or (3) otherwise as the court determines appropriate.
After finding that the parents would have provided educational support had the family remained intact, the act requires courts to consider all relevant circumstances. These include:
1. the parents' income, assets, and other obligations, including obligations to other dependents;
2. the child's need for support to attend school, taking into account his own assets and earning capacity;
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 and aptitude for, and commitment to, higher education; and
6. any evidence about the school the child would attend.
The act makes existing criteria and procedures for modifying support orders applicable to educational support orders, including the requirement that the party seeking the modification show a substantial change in circumstances.
PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT IN SCHOOL SELECTION
The act requires, at the appropriate time, that both parents discuss and agree on the school the child will attend. If they do not agree, the matter must be resolved by court order.
To qualify for educational support payments, the student must:
1. enroll at least half-time in an accredited institution of higher education or private occupational school and pursue a course of study commensurate with his vocational goals,
2. maintain good academic standing, and
3. make all academic records available to both parents.
Orders must be suspended after any academic period during which the child fails to comply with these conditions.