If your marriage ends and there are minor children, you expect that, as a non-custodial parent, you’ll be required to pay some level of child support, so that you actively participate in the financial responsibility of raising the child. But what if your child decides to go to college? Is paying your share of your child’s college education costs part of raising the child? Can the court order you to cover some of those expenses as part of a divorce decree?
The laws governing a parent’s duty to pay for child’s college education are somewhat confusing in Pennsylvania. As a part of your divorce decree, you can always mutually agree to share the costs. Such an agreement will generally be enforceable in a court of law, unless there’s evidence of coercion, undue influence or misrepresentation.
In the absence of an agreement, the law currently does not grant courts the authority to mandate payment of college education costs in divorce proceedings. The Pennsylvania courts did hold, back in the 1960s, that parents could be required to provide support to adult children who were in college. That rule remained in place for thirty years, until the state’s Supreme Court concluded that there was not statutory authority allowing the court’s to make such a determination.
In 1993, in response that court decision, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law that specifically granted trial courts the power to order payment of college education expenses when parents are divorced or separated. That statute was subsequently challenged and found to be unconstitutional, as it denied parents of divorce the equal protection of the law.
The law remains on the books, though its application has been declared unconstitutional. Accordingly, as a practical matter, the obligation to pay child support in Pennsylvania ends when the child becomes 18 or until the child graduates from high school, whichever is later.