When a court enters a divorce judgment and orders one parent to pay child support, both parents-the one obligated to pay as well as the support recipient-often wonder when the support obligation ends. Missouri’s child support laws are different from those of many other states, in that child support obligations will, under certain circumstances, continue well past high school. The devil, however, is in the details.
Missouri’s law dealing with child support after high school can be confusing, and poses a few potential traps for the unwary. Some recent cases in the Missouri Court of Appeals highlight some of the trickier issues parents are faced with and provide some guidelines for avoiding surprises.
Here is some information that may assist you in understanding what to expect when a child goes to college, and what pitfalls you will want to avoid.
The first thing to understand is that child support obligations generally extend at least until a child turns 18 years old or obtains a high school diploma, whichever happens later. So if a child had to repeat a grade and is now 19 years old and in his senior year of high school, as long as he continues to work towards a high school diploma and has not turned 21 years old, the child support continues to be due each month.
Once a child reaches 18 and finishes high school, the child support obligation will end unless that child enrolls in “an institution of vocational or higher education” no later than the following October first. The child support obligation will continue to be due as long as the child remains enrolled in school and completes at least 12 hours of coursework per term. Once the child reaches age 21 or “completes his or her education,” whichever comes first, the child support obligation ends.
Since the parent obligated to pay support does not always have complete information on the child’s educational progress, the law requires that the child provide certain information to both parents in order for the child support obligation to remain in effect. At the beginning of the each semester, the child must submit to both parents “a transcript or similar official document” from the educational institution, showing the following:
- All courses the child enrolled in and completed for each term
- The grades and credits received for each course in which the child was enrolled;
- All courses the child enrolled in for the coming term; AND
- How many credit hours the child will earn for each course in the coming term.
The first question parents frequently ask is where they should begin when they have an issue regarding support of a child after high school graduation.
First, look carefully at your judgment (divorce decree) to determine what your specific rights and obligations are when a child goes to college. Some judgments provide for child support payments to be adjusted when a child is away at school; however, most do not.
Second, make certain that if you are the parent entitled to receive support, you have your child send all grade and enrollment information to both parents promptly as soon as they are received. If you have the information yourself, send it on immediately to the paying parent. A delay could jeopardize support payments. If you are the paying parent, be aware that you are entitled to this information.
Finally, since the law in this area is tricky, and its interpretation continues to evolve, to make certain your rights are protected you should consult with any one of our Family Law attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal, P.C. or any other attorney skilled in the law of child support.