Paying your child’s college expenses and how it relates to divorce.

Along with alimony and division of property, your child’s pursuit for higher education should be thoroughly discussed. 

Many of my clients are worried about who will pay for college expenses when their child moves off to college.  In general, a court cannot order one party to pay for a child’s college expenses because that child will be an adult when they attend college. But, parents are free to enter into an agreement that determines how college expenses will be paid by each parent.  That agreement is considered a binding contract and will be enforceable by a court if a parent fails to honor that family law contract.

A recent family law court in Palm Beach County dealt with this issue.  In Goff v. Kenney-Goff the Fourth District Court of Appeal made a ruling regarding the parents agreement to pay for college expenses.  The parties agreement stated that the Husband would continue to pay child support through attainment of the minor child’s twenty-first birthday if the child were enrolled in college and still living at home with the Wife.

The minor child in the Goff case was enrolled at the University of Florida in Gainesville and lived in student housing that he had to vacate during school breaks.  During the summer, he lived with the Mother and took class at community college while he was at home.  The family law trial court found that the parties’ youngest child is attending college and resides with the Former Wife on a permeant basis, including the times that he is attending classes at the University of Florida.  The appellate court did not agree.

The appellate court found that the family law trial court’s order requiring the Husband to continue paying support is contrary to the plain language of the marital settlement agreement.  The appellate court reasoned that the child lived at the University of Florida in Gainesville and returned home only during breaks.  Thus, the child was not “still living at home with the Wife” as required by the marital settlement agreement.  Requiring the Husband to pay child support under these facts would render the marital settlement agreement meaningless.  The appellate court stated that, had the parties intended this to be the case, they should have specified such an arrangement in the agreement.

If you believe that you and your spouse are able to come to an agreement regarding who pays for college expenses or require legal assistance in other areas of Family Law you may always contact Damien McKinney of The McKinney Law Group to discuss your case further. He can be reached by phone at 813-428-3400 or by e-mail at[email protected].