Post-Majority and College Education Support in Connecticut – Timing Matters
By: Kate Haakonsen
Like so many things in life, the availability of child support beyond a child's 18th birthday is a matter of timing, in this case the date the parents were divorced. Before the age of majority was reduced from 21 to 18 in 1972, child support was available to age 21, which covered all or most of the college years for many children of divorce. Although the legislature was not intentionally reducing parents' support obligation when it lowered the age of majority, the court soon ruled that it had done just that. Several laws have been passed since 1990 that have extended parents' support obligations beyond the age of 18. However, for Constitutional reasons, each of these laws applies only to divorce judgments that are entered on or after the effective date. In cases where judgment entered on or after July 1, 1994, parents may be ordered to provide support for an unmarried child attending high school up to the age of 19 or high school graduation, whichever occurs first. Parents may be ordered to support a child who is mentally retarded or physically disabled, as defined by statute, up until the child reaches age 21, but only if the parents were divorced on or after October 1, 1997. Effective October 1, 2002, in cases of divorce or legal separation or new support orders entered between parents who were never married, the court may order parents to contribute to the post high school education expenses of their children up to the age of 23. Prior to October 1, 2002, such orders could be entered only by written agreement of the parties. The court will make an order of educational support only if requested by one of the parties by motion or petition. At the time that a judgment of divorce or legal separation is entered the court must either enter an order or reserve jurisdiction to make an order at a later date. Otherwise, the right to request an educational support order is waived. Before an educational support order can be entered, the judge must find that the parents would have contributed to the education of the child if the family had been intact. The court may order payment of expenses listed in the statute for undergraduate or vocational school, but the court may not order parents to contribute more than the cost for a fulltime student attending the University of Connecticut for the same year. Orders are based a number of financial considerations that are spelled out in the statute. There are also specific requirements that the child must meet in order to receive the support. The child has no right to request or enforce the support order; only the spouse can do so. The statute described above applies to cases where the parents do not have an agreement and have requested an educational support order be entered by the court after a trial of the issue. Of course, parents may still, and often do, enter into written agreements for the payment of college education or other post majority support in any amount they choose, and their agreement can set forth the specific terms and conditions they agree upon. Written educational support or post majority support orders are subject to modification in the same way that child support orders for minor children can be modified, but again, only in cases where judgment was entered on or after October 1, 2001, even if the judgment was entered pursuant to an agreement of the parties to pay college expenses. As we said, timing matters.