There is a growing trend recently about children taking a year off between high school and college to further their education abroad, to take a year and pursue non-academic interests, or to take some time and earn some money toward college expenses. All of these goals are commendable but all of these goals can have serious financial implications for divorced parents. The implications are case-specific and can be determined only after taking into account all factors in an individual’s particular situation. The preceding are some general issues to consider when talking with your child about taking some time off between high school and college.
In Missouri when people get divorced and they have children together, the Court enters a Parenting Plan that sets forth the custody schedule (including holidays), as well as indicating who pays for extracurricular activities, medical expenses, extraordinary expenses, and often college. If the children are very young, the parties usually leave college out of the Parenting Plan and seek to have that issue addressed when the children are older, but if the children are in their teens, college expenses are often included in the Parenting Plan. The wrinkle that surfaces when a child takes a year “off” between high school and college is that a parent paying child support may petition the court to either have child support terminated completely or have child support abated unless and until the child returns to post-secondary schooling full-time.
The determination of a child’s emancipation may also come into play when the child takes a year off between high school and college. If the child remains out of school and extends their year off, the question becomes whether the child should become an emancipated adult. In effect, a parent who pays child support may seek to have the child declared emancipated (meaning they no longer qualify or are entitled to support from their parents) and thereby terminate all support for the child including college expenses, medical expenses, extraordinary expenses, etc.
The bottom line is that taking some time off between high school and college may be exactly what is in your children’s best interest. It may allow them to further their education in a more informal setting, to broaden their perspective, and to allow them to be more financially responsible. All of these goals are worthy of consideration, but you should be aware of the potential legal implications in making such a decision. In sum, if you are divorced, seeking advice from an attorney before agreeing to your child taking a year off is worth the time and expense to avoid issues down the road.