OLR Research Report

October 16, 2007




By: Susan Price, Principal Legislative Analyst

You asked several questions about divorce and child support laws, which we answer in turn. The Office of Legislative Research is not authorized to give legal opinions and this report should not be considered such.

What legal notice must be given in Connecticut divorce actions?

In most cases, state marshals serve the divorce papers (at a minimum, a court summons and copies of the divorce complaint and automatic court orders) by personally giving them to the person who is being sued for divorce (the respondent). If the respondent is not living in Connecticut, the court can authorize a marshal to send the papers by certified mail. If the divorcing spouse does not know the respondent's whereabouts and has made reasonable attempts to locate him or her, the court may permit notification by publication in a suitable newspaper.

Are Massachusetts notice rules different?

The rules in Massachusetts are basically the same, but they also allow a “disinterested person”, someone without a financial or other interest in the case, to serve the papers.

Must a non-custodial parent provide health insurance coverage for children after they turn age 18 in Connecticut?

Parents must continue health insurance coverage beyond a child's 18th birthday when this obligation is contained in an enforceable written agreement such as a divorce decree. In addition, because child support orders must include medical insurance provisions, it appears that parents may be required to provide health coverage for physically or mentally disabled children until they reach age 21 and for full-time high school students until they reach age 19 (CGS 46b-84(b) and -84(c)).

Has the legislature passed any law or proposed legislation that addresses medical coverage in a divorce proceeding?

State law requires child support orders to include provisions for health care coverage. Family courts can order a parent who has access to reasonably-priced employer-sponsored coverage to enroll the child or order that the child be enrolled in HUSKY, the state children's health insurance program. They can direct the other parent to contribute to the insurance costs if he or she has the financial means to do so (CGS 46b-84(f)).

Summarize the postmajority educational support law that the legislature enacted in 2002.

PA 02-128 permits judges and family support magistrates to order parents to support their children for up to four full academic years when enrolled in accredited college or vocational programs after high school 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. The act is codified at CGS 46b-56c.

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) pendent lite order (requiring 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 if the parents never married or are living apart.

When the court enters a divorce, separation, or annulment decree involving parents who have offspring under age 23 that does not include educational support, it must tell the parents that they will not be able to seek this type of support at a later date. A 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.

Court Considerations. 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.

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.

Student's Obligations. 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.

Modifying Orders. 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.

How was the issue of college support addressed before 02-128 was enacted?

Before the passage of the law, Connecticut's Supreme Court had ruled that courts could not order a parent to pay support of any kind beyond a child's 18th birthday (Miller v. Miller, 181 Conn. 610, 613-614 (1980)). They could enforce provisions in written agreements stipulating to support payments for a longer period of time, but they could not modify them after the child turned 18 unless the agreement had a provision expressly permitting it (Hirtle v. Hirtle, 217 Conn. 394, 400-01 (1991)).