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Can Child Support be Extended to Cover College?


The Duty to Financially Support Your Child

A parent has a legal duty to provide adequate financial support, so their child has access to the necessaries of life, such as food, shelter, clothing, medical care, and education. This duty arises from a the parent-child relationship. This duty serves as the basis for child support obligations in divorce cases.

However, the duty to financially support one’s child ends when the child reaches the age of majority. As a result, a parent is typically not required to pay child support when their child turns 18. However, there are certain exceptions to this rule.

A parent’s duty to provide financial support for their child can extend past the age of 18 if the child suffers from a physical or mental disability that prevents them from being financially self-sufficient. California Family Code § 3910 governs issues regarding “support of an adult child.” However, California courts have held that § 3910 does not authorize a court to extend a child support obligation to cover a child’s college expenses even if the child’s financial resources are inadequate to let the attend college, absent a showing that the child suffers from a disability that impairs their ability to be financially self-supporting.

Agreements to Extend Financial Support

Although a parent’s legal duty to support their child does not extend to providing them with enough money to pay for college after they turn 18, a parent can agree cover their child’s college expenses in a  divorce settlement.  

Under California Family Code § 3587, a court can issue orders in conformity with the terms of a stipulated agreement for extending a parent’s child support obligations to cover a child’s college expenses past the age of 18.

Section 3587 provides that “[n]optwithstanding any other provision of law, the court has the authority to approve a stipulated agreement by the parents to pay for the support of an adult child or the continuation of child support after a child attains the age of 18 years and to make a support order to effectuate the agreement.”

Thus, parents are free to enter an agreement to extend their child support obligations to cover their child’s college tuition and incidental expenses, even though the law does not require them to do so.

Qualified Tuition Programs

Parents can save for their child’s college education using what are known as “qualified tuition programs.” Similar to a retirement savings plan like a 401(k), a qualified tuition program lets parents save pre-tax dollars to be used on qualified higher education expenses, such as college tuition and room and board. Disbursements for qualified higher education expenses are also tax-deductible.

However, a child support order cannot require a parent to establish or contribute to a child’s college fund, even if the child is still under 18. However, parents can also stipulate to an agreement that calculates their child support obligations to cover contributions to a college fund.

Ultimately, a California court cannot compel a parent to pay for their child’s college expenses. However, a court can enforce a child support obligation to cover college if the parties voluntarily agreed to do so.

Consult Gille Kay Law Group, PC for Legal Advice

If you are involved in a legal dispute regarding child support, you should consult an experienced attorney from Gille Kay Law Group, PC. Our legal team has years of combined legal experience litigating and negotiating issues such as child support. If you are looking for specialized legal representation, look no further than Gille Kay Law Group, PC. We have attorneys who have been certified as Family Law Specialists by the California State Bar Association Board of Legal Specialization.

Call our office at (626) 340-0955 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation about your case today.

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