September 7, 2010
CHILD SUPPORT FOR UNMARRIED PARENTS
By: Susan Price, Senior Attorney
You asked how long an unmarried parent has to pay child support and whether a judge or family support magistrate's support order can require payments for post-high school tuition and related expenses.
Generally, regardless of marital status, non-custodial parents must pay child support until their child reaches age 18. If at that point the child is an unmarried, full-time high school student, the support obligation continues until the child reaches age 19 or completes 12th grade, whichever comes first.
The law does contain a provision under which a judge or magistrate can order parents who never married to pay educational support (college or vocational school tuition and related expenses) for up to four years or until the student reaches age 23, whichever comes first. This option can only be pursued at the first court hearing regarding child support; otherwise, it is waived.
The educational support law covers only cases in which the initial child support order is entered on or after October 1, 2002.
REQUIRED COURT FINDINGS AND CONSIDERATIONS
Before ordering educational support, the court must first make a finding that it is more likely than not that the parents would have supported the child in his or her pursuit of higher education had the family remained intact (CGS §46b-56c(c)). After making the initial finding, the court must then consider all relevant circumstances, including:
1. the parents' income, assets, and other obligations, including obligations to other dependents;
2. the child's need for support in order to attend a post-secondary program, considering the child's assets and ability to earn income;
3. the availability of financial aid from other sources, including grants and loans;
4. the reasonableness of the program 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. evidence, if any, of the school the child would attend (Id.).
The law disqualifies students who otherwise would be entitled to educational support if they do not:
1. enroll in an accredited program;
2. actively pursue, on a full-time basis, a course of study in which at least half of their academic course load is related to their vocational goals;
3. remain in good standing according to the school's rules; and
4. give their parents access to all academic records during the period covered by the support order.
As with other support orders, the court can modify or dissolve an educational support order if one or both parents prove that their circumstances have changed.