It is the rare couple that doesn’t quibble over money in the midst of divorce proceedings, so arguments and negotiations are generally expected. But even those expecting acrimony are shocked when their soon-to-be-ex announces that they are no longer contributing to college. They’re even more shocked to learn their spouse is perfectly within their rights to make this decision.
In the state of Pennsylvania, no parent is required to pay for their child’s college, and as a result the courts have determined that the same is true in the case of divorce, regardless of means or previous promises. Even if their children’s college attendance was part of a couple’s plans and dreams and they were diligently putting away money for tuition, there is no legal requirement that they continue that support unless a separate agreement to do so is negotiated.
The issue of whether Pennsylvania’s child support requirements included the cost of college was resolved by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in November of 1992, when a son sued his father over college tuition. The case, Blue v. Blue, involved parents who had been paying their son’s Penn State tuition together until they separated. Their son, a sophomore, took a leave of absence from school and then enrolled at Lehigh County Community College where both parents worked. He had been living with his father, who paid his tuition and all of his expenses, but then the father moved out of the house and started a new life with his girlfriend and her children. He purchased a new home and paid almost all of his new family’s expenses while his son moved in with his mother, re-enrolled at Penn State, and then sought tuition support from his father, who refused.
Though the lower court hearing the case – and later a Superior Court – ordered the father to pay a portion of his son’s tuition based on a previous state Supreme Court decision, that same court reversed this determination on appeal. They said that the original case had involved an agreement to pay tuition that had been incorporated into a divorce decree rather than on a legal obligation to do so as part of child support, and that therefore it was wrongly decided. The court noted that in the previous case they had not “unequivocally adopted a legal principle that a parent has a legal obligation to provide college expenses,” and went on to say that they had found “no legal authority to require a parent to provide for college educational support.”
Pennsylvania is one of twenty-six states in the country that does not give courts the authority to order a non-custodial parent to pay for some form of college expenses. And though the court will uphold oral agreements, agreements made during the marriage are considered to have been based on the assumption of living together and sharing expenses, and become moot once the marriage ends.
The Pennsylvania courts do enforce agreements to pay for college if they are drafted as part of a divorce settlement. For assistance in negotiating and crafting this type of support for your children, contact our experienced divorce attorneys today.