In the United States, a parent is obligated to support his or her children, regardless of whether parents are married to each other or not. In Texas, we have guidelines regarding what amount to set child support. Under Texas Family Code Section 154.122 guidelines child support is rebuttably presumed to be in the “best interest of the child.”
I have had many clients bring up college in regards to either wanting the other parent to pay for those college or asking who was responsible for college expenses. Arguably it is in the best interest of a child to help them get through college by providing financial support. Financial support of children for college is often overlooked during a divorce in this article we will discuss what Texas guideline child support handles this expense and what options parents have for sharing this cost.
Who is Responsible for College Tuition Under the Texas Family Code?
Under the Texas Family Code, parents are afforded many rights and duties. Those duties include:
- The right to direct the moral and religious training of a child
- Providing an education for the child
- Providing financial Support
However, how much education and for how long is a parent obligated?
Under most circumstances a parent’s obligation to provide support of their child in Texas ends when the child turns eighteen or has graduated from high school, whichever comes later.
The family code also provides that if child support continues beyond age 18 the child must be going to high school on a fulltime basis.
Parents can Negotiate or Agree to College Obligations
However, Texas law does not prevent parents from negotiating and contracting for additional child support obligations such as who will be responsible for college tuition and expenses.
Written and Included in Order
These additional agreements should be in writing and included in the child custody order if parents wish them to be enforceable. Some things that should considered when drafting include specifying what each parent’s obligations would be for:
- College tuition
- The percentage of college expenses that each parent will be responsible
- What ancillary expenses will be covered such as room and board, books, allowance, transportation, and other living expenses
- Would child have to meet any condition such as certain GPA or course load?
- Would that GPA be evaluated each semester, year, etc?
- Would there be a restriction on which college the child can attend
- For how the long will the obligation to pay will continue (four-year obligation versus attaining graduate level of college education)
- Will payments be made directly to the college, to the child, or one of the parents
- Will the child’s share any obligations in regard to his education?
When I have represented the parent, who is being asked to pay for college I have encouraged them to not reduce obligation to writing in the child custody order. I tell them whatever they do as a good parent when the time comes is up to them.
Whatever verbal agreements parents have regarding college costs for their children, will not be enforceable in court. Oral agreement such as this made during a marriage are not binding. It is difficult to predict what is going to happen in the future and like to position my clients to where they have more control regarding the situation. For these same reasons, I negotiate for the opposite when I am representing the other parent.
Paying for College Breach of Contract
If one of the spouses violates the court order regarding paying for college. Then the non-breaching party could bring a breach of contract claim in court. This is one reason it is important to be careful when drafting the agreement.
An example where the parties fought over the intent of their agreement was in the case Bartlett v. Bartlett, 465 S.W.3d 745 (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.] 2015, no pet.). In that case when Husband and Wife divorced they agreed in the final decree that Husband was obligated to pay 100% of the children’s educational expenses for college.
The agreement was also that the son was to:
- be a full-time student and
- maintain at least a C or equivalent GPA.
When the son’s GPA dropped below a C in in one semester the father stopped paying. The father was then sued for breach of contract.
The court found that the father had breached the agreement and ordered father to reimburse mother for the costs she paid and awarded her $15,000 and attorney’s fees.
If the GPA Dropped Below Why was Father in Violation?
The problem was the agreement lacked specificity. The court found that the agreement did not provide for a semester by semester GPA requirement and that the contract contained no forfeiture terms the court concluded that the one semester lapse in GPA did not otherwise excuse fathers obligations to pay for college expenses.
Capping College Obligations
You may not want to agree to an uncapped obligation for college costs it is difficult to predict what such future costs will be. Alternatively, it may preferable to negotiate a lump sum payment to take place each semester for a set number of semester.
Or the lump sum the funds could be invested and made available at the time your child reaches college age. If this is something you would like to further discuss you can make an appointment to speak with one of the family law attorneys at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC.
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Other Articles you may be interested in:
- Paying for college after a divorce
- What do I do if I have overpaid child support in Texas?
- Child Custody Basics in Texas
- Texas Child Support Appeals
- In Texas are Child Support and Visitation Connected?
- Why Ignoring Child Support Obligations is a Bad Idea in Texas
- Texas Child Support – Trust and Annuities
- Special Needs Children in Texas Child Support Cases
- How to get above guideline child support.
- Handling a child support case as the non custodial parent, Part Five
- Modifying your divorce decree in Texas
- How to handle child support as the non custodial parent, Part Three