Who Pays for College?

IMG_8618By Leslee Champion

As you might have recently seen on the news, 18 year old Rachel Canning is suing her parents for financial support and college tuition. As the national average for public secondary education costs exceeds $13,000 (including tuition, fees, and room and board), you can understand why many children, and divorcing parents, have looked to the courts to force one or both parents to pay for these educational costs.

While parents have a duty to support their children until they reach the age of majority, most states, including Georgia, contain no legal provision requiring parents to contribute towards their children’s college expenses. In Georgia, a parents duty for child support, including educational expenses, will ordinarily terminate upon the child reaching the age of majority (18), getting married, dying, or becoming emancipated. (Code of Georgia Sec. 19-6-15(e)) However, the Georgia Code does allow the trial court, in its sound discretion, to require financial assistance to a child (not married or emancipated) who is enrolled in college, provided that the assistance shall not be required after the child is 20. So if you are lucky enough to get college parental support, you better graduate early, as the funds will likely end after your second year.

Additionally, parties are free to contract with each other to provide for their children’s educational expenses for longer periods and these contracts are enforceable by the courts. It should be noted however, that an intention to support a child beyond its minority will be found only if the agreement contains specific and unambiguous language to that effect. Without the parent’s consent, neither a court nor a jury can force that parent to support the child beyond the age of 18 (or for secondary school education up to age 20).