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Do I Have To Pay Child Support and College Costs?



Question: I’m a non-custodial mother. I’m paying 17.5 percent child support through wage garnishment to my ex-husband for our 18 year-old-son. He just started college, and the ex wants me to pay half my son’s tuition and expenses — in addition to the child support I already pay.

There was no college clause in our custody papers. My ex already laid out $4,000 for this semester and is either going to demand I pay half immediately or take me to family court. I don’t have $2,000! I’d have to take out some sort of loan. (Apparently, my son didn’t qualify for financial aid.)

Do you know if the judge would order me to pay half and garnish my salary? Or even take it out in some crazy lump sum because it might be arrears because he paid it up front?

Thanks for any advice you can give me.

Marnee in New York

Steve Rhode answers…

First, let me be clear: I’m not an attorney, and I strongly advise you to seek legal advice from an attorney who’s licensed in New York. But what I can share with you is my experience and opinion…

Issues like these are always traumatic. When two adults who aren’t compatible and get divorced, the child is often the one caught in the middle.

If there was no statement in your divorce agreement at what age child support would end, I believe in New York State child support continues to the age of 21, which can be well into college years. That’s unless your son was emancipated.

As New York attorney David Badanes says…

Children are considered emancipated if they become economically independent through entry into the military service or a military academy, via marriage, or as a result of full-time employment. The focus is whether the child is truly economically independent. Therefore, temporary employment, or full-time employment during the summer, will not qualify.  Likewise, if the child is working to save money for college tuition, this will not be considered as economic independence.

Before you panic, I urge you to go back and read your divorce agreement and see if the issue of college tuition was dealt with. Yours might actually say that you’ll share costs with your ex-husband. If so, then it would appear that was previously decided when you got divorced.

New York attorney Francine Cohen says, “Notice that student loans are not mentioned as part of the financial aid.  If you want your student to borrow guaranteed student loans to help fund her or his education, your agreement must specifically say so, or the child will not be required to apply for or accept a loan.”

But according to New York attorney Neil Cahn, New York State has said that parents may only be required to share college expenses based on their ability to pay.

This is why I can’t stress enough that you discuss this with a New York State licensed divorce attorney or even your divorce attorney you used.

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