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Does Child Support Include College Tuition in Florida?

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In many states, child support rarely ends at age 18. Instead, it often continues until age 22. But instead of making direct payments to the residential parent, the non-residential parent must pay a share of college expenses.

That’s not the case in Florida. In the Sunshine State, unless the child has a serious mental or physical disability which makes independent living impossible, child support almost always ends at 18 or upon graduation from high school.

Nevertheless, if the parents voluntarily agree to split college costs and that agreement is part of the official family law paperwork, such an agreement is usually enforceable. Given the skyrocketing cost of college tuition and most parents’ desire for their children to attend college, such agreements are fairly common. However, no parent, especially a non-residential parent, should agree to such an arrangement unless they have assertive Port St. Lucie divorce attorneys in their corners.

Procedural Matters

Typically, especially if the children are young at the time of divorce, the parties include a reserve clause in the decree. This clause usually says something like the parties agree that both of them should proportionally contribute toward the children’s college education and that the specifics will be worked out at a later date.

Later, as the child approaches high school graduation and the factors discussed below come into sharper focus, the parties modify the prior decree to include specifics as to college education financial contributions.

If necessary, the parties may go to mediation before they file any court paperwork. A mediator is often very good at translating broad principles into specific agreements, and that’s what is needed in this situation.

Some Factors to Consider

The process sounds deceptively simple, but as anyone who has ever gone through a divorce or family law procedure will attest, things are hardly ever that simple.

First, there is an overall consideration. In regular child support matter, if divorce spouses remarry, the new spouses’ incomes are irrelevant. But when it comes to college tuition reimbursement, the rules are different. Every available source of money, including a stepparent’s income, may be relevant in the discussion.

The child’s income is relevant as well. Increasingly, that income includes not only scholarships and the money from a part-time job, but also student loans. How much children must contribute to their own education is one of the specific factors to consider.

Other specifics include defining key terms. For example, college cost reimbursement often includes transportation expenses. But does “transportation” mean a car and a generous gas/maintenance allowance, a couple of round-trip bus tickets between home and campus, or something in between?

Finally, the relationship between the non-residential parent and the soon-to-be college student may be a factor. Over the years, non-residential parents and their children often drift apart, especially if the residential parent remarries. If that’s the case, the non-residential parent’s compulsion to help the child may understandably not be as strong as it once was.

If the parents cannot agree, the reserve clause stays in effect. A general principle like “you should give money” is clearly not enforceable in family court.

Work with Experienced Lawyers

In Florida, child support may or may not include college cost reimbursement. For a free consultation with an experienced family law attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. We routinely handle matters all along the Treasure Coast.

 

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