Parent was not obligated to pay college expenses for adult son

Even after a divorce is final, one party may request a modification of child support, based on a change in circumstances. Thus, disputes over support may continue long after a divorce is settled.

One issue that may lead to a later dispute is payment for a child's education. For example, under Alabama law, could a parent be asked to pay for a minor child's college education past the age of majority? The Alabama Supreme Court recently discussed this issue in the case of Ex parte Christopher.

A mother is ordered to help with college expenses

At the time of the couple's divorce, they had one adult child and two children under the age of majority. Four days before the younger son reached his 19th birthday, the father petitioned the court requesting that the mother pay for a portion of the son's college expenses.

After a trial, the court required the mother to pay 25 percent of the son's college expenses, totaling more than $9,000 per semester. The mother appealed this decision.

Did the decision violate Alabama law?

The Alabama Supreme Court noted that, under an earlier decision, it had held that a non-custodial parent might be required to pay college expenses for children who had passed the age of majority.

However, under Alabama law, the age of majority is controlled exclusively by statute. The court's prior decision regarding support for college expenses was therefore reversed, as it improperly overrode this statute. Although the Alabama Supreme Court's decision in the current case would not disturb support orders previously entered, its ruling would apply going forward.

Since the Alabama statute governing child custody does not authorize a court in divorce actions to require the non-custodial parent to pay college expenses once that child has become an adult (that is, has become 19), the lower court decision regarding the child support payments by the mother was reversed. This also meant that the mother in this case could recover from the father all support payments she had thus far made, after her son had passed the age of majority.

Exploring the best options for your family

If you or your former spouse are attempting to modify the terms of prior divorce proceedings, you should contact an experienced family law attorney to explore the right approach. Select an attorney who will take the time to get to know you and understand your goals for you and your family, so that you can pursue the best option for your individual situation.

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