College Obligations Feed

Parents aren't responsible for College Obligations, except when. .

Under Rhode Island law, parents are not responsible for paying for college or expenses related to college.  There are a few exceptions that as a Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer I've seen Rhode Island Family court judges address.

Generally speaking the statement above is true.  Parents are not held responsible for paying for college expenses.  This is true, provided that normally accepted situations exist. 

For instance, most "children" do not take college courses before their 18th birthday and many, even before their 19th birthday. 

Under Rhode Island Law, child support obligations may be required by parents until a child is 18 and has graduated from high school or until the child has reached the age of 19 at the latest, provided the child is not a special needs child.  Child Support provides for child care expenses which may or may not, in the discretion of the judge include educational expenses.  Consider this example which is not that unusual.

EXAMPLE #1  - Your Child is Advanced

Terri and John have a daughter, Samantha and are divorced.  Samantha is exceptionally bright and finished high school at age 17 and was accepted to college early.  Terri takes John back to court to have him pay for part of Samantha's college expenses.  John hires a Rhode Island general law practitioner who advises him that he is not required to pay for his daughter's college expenses.  In the Final Judgment of Divorce John was ordered to pay for half of Samantha's tuition, books and extra-curricular activities until she was no longer eligible for child support.

At the time of the hearing John expects that he will not be ordered to pay anything toward Samantha's college expenses especially since Samantha's private high school tuition was about 1/5th the cost of Samantha's college tuition and he never anticipated Samantha would go to college early. 

However, after the hearing the judge sees things otherwise.   Since Samantha is still a minor
she is still entitled to child support and the support of her father.  Since the court's order didn't specifically exclude college expenses, then the judge finds that they are still included until Samantha is no longer eligible for child support.

EXAMPLE #2 - You Agreed to It

Claire and Tim get divorced and have a Marital Settlement Agreement.  Both parties had an attorney and both parties wanted to get the divorce done as quickly as possible so the Marital Settlement Agreement was a little rushed though each party had the opportunity to read all the provisions and discuss it with his or her lawyer.

Claire and Tim have a son, James.  James enters college and Claire contributes as much as she can to his college education and approaches Tim about his contribution.  Tim is surprised and tells Claire that he can't afford to contribute to college for James because he is just about to close on a new house.  Claire consults a lawyer who tells Claire that Tim has to contribute whether he likes it or not because he agreed to it in the Marital Settlement Agreement.

Tim consults an attorney who informs him that it doesn't matter what is in the Marital Settlement Agreement because the family court lacks the legal authority to make a father pay for college costs.

At the hearing Claire's attorney argues that Tim agreed to it in a provision of their Marital Settlement Agreement and Tim's attorney argues that the family court lacks the power to force Tim to pay for college costs and therefore the provision of the Marital Settlement Agreement is not binding.

The judge takes a straightforward and common sense position to the argument.  The judge agrees that the family court does not have the power to force a parent to pay for college costs for a child who is not a special needs child and is emancipated.  However, the judge finds that according to the Rhode Island Statutes the family court is empowered to enforce agreements made between the parties as a results of divorce and that the terms of such agreements may reach beyond what the family court may order because parties are free to contract to whatever terms they see fit as long as the court does not find them to be inequitable.

Therefore, the judge finds that the Marital Settlement Agreement is enforceable as a separate and binding contract and Orders Tim to pay half of the expenses as he agreed to do in the Marital Settlement Agreement.

Authored By:

  Christopher A. Pearsall, Attorney-at-Law
70 Dogwood Drive, Suite 304
West Warwick, RI 02893

Call (401) 632-6976 Now for your low-cost consultation.
Rhode Island's Most Affordable Divorce & Family Law* Attorney
100% Digital and Virtual!

Copyright 2008.  Christopher A. Pearsall, Internet Entrepreneur and Attorney-at-Law

*The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all attorneys in the general practice of law. | | Rhode Island Divorce Tips | |
| Rhode Island Divorce Attorney | Rhode Island Divorce Lawyer | Chris Pearsall
| Legal Scholar | Pearsall Law Associates | Rhode Island Divorce Attorneys | Rhode Island Divorce Lawyers || |

College Costs in a Rhode Island Divorce Proceeding

When negotiating a Marital Settlement Agreement the issue of College is sometimes raised.  More consistently than not, the mother will advocate for a clause that requires both parents to contribute an equal amount of money for college expenses to the minor child or children.  Less often it is the mother of the child or children more or less demanding that the father contribute a specific amount to the college education of each child.

It can be frustrating for the parties when one party won't let go of the college support issue and is trying to use it as a "deal breaker' or we simply have no settlement.

No doubt each party will make his or her choice, with or without the advice of counsel, but it is important for both mother and father to know that Rhode Island Domestic Relations law does not require a parent to pay for post-secondary school, including colleges, universities, trade schools, etc...

A good divorce lawyer will help you address this in the manner that is acceptable to you, without being brow beaten by something your spouse wants that couldn't be ordered even after a full divorce trial.

Strangely, this because a topic of contention on my blog.   Some commenting advocates criticized the law in some comments calling the law inconsistent with college application forms.  It is certainly understandable where the contradiction could be seen when the federal student aid financial form requires the incomes of both parents in order to determine an applicant's eligibility for student loans and possible grants.  Why is this?  Because there is an expectation by the federal government who may back the federal grants or student aid programs that BOTH parents will make a contribution toward the son or daughter's education.  In that light you can certainly understand how juxtapposed the federal system is with the Rhode Island state law.

Still others had a contrary point.  Not everyone goes to college and not everyone wants to go to college or would ever have the means to go to college even if both parents make the best contribution they could make.  In otherwords, why should Rhode Island law require either parent to pay for an expense that isn't necessary for survival.  The counter point also indicates that most applicants for college are 18 and immature.  They simply do not absorb the information, nor do they appreciate what they learn, especially if they aren't paying for the education.

It makes one wonder as to each parent's mindset.   Is college a right?  A privilege?  Or a necessity?

Authored by:

Christopher A. Pearsall, Esquire
571 Pontiac Avenue
Cranston, RI  02910
Phone:  (401) 354-2369

NOTE:  The postings on this website are NOT legal advice, DO NOT create an attorney/client relationship and are NOT a substitute for a detailed consultation with an attorney experienced in the state where you have your legal issue.  This site is presented for the convenience of the internet public.

* The Rhode Island Supreme Court licenses all lawyers in the general practice of law and has no procedure for recognition of specialty in any area of law.