In Indiana, children born out of wedlock and children of divorce have the power to force their parents to contribute to their post-secondary educational costs. Children of an intact marriage have no such power.
Post-secondary educational expenses (known as “educational support”) are addressed in the Indiana Child Support Guidelines, which can be accessed on the Indiana Supreme Court’s website. For children under age 19, educational support may be payable in addition to regular child support. As with regular child support, there is a worksheet that needs to be completed and submitted to the Court at a hearing or with any agreement.
Unless the obligation is established in a divorce or paternity agreement, a party seeking an educational support order must file a petition in court before the child’s 19th birthday. The deadline may be age 21 for cases in which there is a very old divorce or paternity agreement. You should check with an attorney well in advance of a child’s 19th birthday to determine the deadline.
In general, the child is expected to pay some of his or her own expenses through loans, grants, scholarships and/or employment. The contribution will vary, but is generally not less than one-third of the total cost. The remaining costs and expenses will be divided between the parents based on their pro rata share of the total income. Technically, the Court should not impose an educational support obligation on a parent who cannot afford the expense.
Educational support is limited to the cost of an Indiana in-state university for 4 years or 8 semesters. The child is required to maintain a cumulative C average. Applicable costs include tuition, room and board, fees and miscellaneous expenses (which can often be the source of conflict). In some cases, the parents will be required to maintain health insurance for the child. Some educational support orders may also include payment for a vehicle and/or vehicle insurance if the vehicle is needed for transportation to school.
Although educational support is addressed in the child support guidelines, there is some important case law from the Indiana Supreme Court and the Indiana Court of Appeals that address various issues. If educational support may be an issue in your situation, you should consult with an attorney before taking any action.