In Maryland, all parental financial responsibility ends when a child legally becomes an adult. Because married parents have no duty to pay for their children’s college education, Maryland lawmakers reason that divorced parents should not have such a duty either.
Recently, however, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that, at least in some cases, parents paying child support must also contribute to their children’s college education. This is a sharp break from the rule that exists in the majority of states, including in Maryland.
Family law may be trending away from the current majority rule, however. In February, Maryland state legislators introduced legislation that would extend child support obligations to require the non-custodial parent to help pay for college. The bill is still currently under consideration in the state House of Representatives.
Nearby Pennsylvania passed a similar bill in 1995, but the state’s court has since struck it down as unconstitutional. The Unites States Supreme Court has not weighed in on the issue.
In the South Carolina decision, a big factor was a promise the father made to help pay for his son’s college, that he later refused to honor. His income had risen by a factor of more than 8 from the time of the divorce to the time when his oldest child was ready for higher education–but his child support payments for the two children remained steady over that time, totaling $175 per week.
As of yet, divorced parents in Maryland cannot depend on the state requiring that the non-custodial spouse to contribute to education costs once the children reach adulthood. However, as society puts more and more emphasis on a college education, more Americans than ever are moving on to secondary education. With such a trend, the question of whether a noncustodial parent should help pay for college is unlikely to go away in the near future.
For now, custodial parents who want to ensure that their children will be able to attend college when the time comes may want to seek alternative methods of obtaining the money. For instance, one could use funds from a property settlement to open an education savings account.
Source: The Republic, “SC Supreme Court rules some divorced parents paying child support should also pay for college,” Jeffrey Collins, March 7, 2012