Changes Coming to Child Support for College Students?

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C. posted in Child Support on Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Currently, Missouri requires a parent paying child support continue that obligation until the child reaches age twenty-one (21), so long as the child enrolls in an institution of higher education by the October following high school graduation.  The obligation to pay support continues if (a) the child enrolls in at least twelve credit hours each fall and spring semester, (b) the child completes at least twelve credit hours each fall and spring semester, (c) the child achieves grades that permits continued enrollment, (d) the child passes at least half of the courses each semester, and (e) at the beginning of each semester the child provides the parent a copy of the transcript showing the courses completed and grades earned and the courses enrolled for the coming semester.  Failure to meet any of these conditions will result in termination of support.  The law recognizes only two exceptions:  (a) for a child with a diagnosed disability that makes taking at least twelve hours impossible, the child may take the course load the disability allows, but must still meet all other conditions to receive support, and (b) a child who works at least fifteen hours per week may take as few as nine hours per semester, but still must meet all other conditions to receive support.

State Representative Lyle Rowland wants to change this law.  He has introduced HB 1138, which would require any child enrolled in higher education to pass every course every semester in order to continue to pay child support.  On April 8, 2014, the full House passed this bill by a vote of 117 to 30.  The state senate has held a hearing on the bill but has not yet set it for a vote.

Those representatives supporting the bill see it as an incentive to the parent receiving support to encourage the child to exert best efforts in pursuit of a degree.  Those against the bill worry that a child who has one bad class will lose continued support, and that is too stiff a penalty for what could be a difficult subject or a terrible professor.

A bigger question surrounding the bill involves payment of college expenses.  Our statutes currently do not require a court to order parents to pay college expenses, but courts have considered doing so a form of child support subject to ability to pay.  If the proposed bill becomes law, a student who flunks one course would potentially lose all support for college expenses, a penalty some would perceive as unduly harsh and contrary to the goal of encouraging children to pursue college degrees.

Child support for students post-majority has been controversial.  First, we do not require married couples to pay for their children’s higher education, but we seem to require some form of such support for divorced parents.  Some perceive this distinction as unfair and perhaps unconstitutional.  Second, children who do attend college do not generally live at home; if child support separately covers college expenses, why does the parent receiving support still need financial assistance for that child who does not really live at home?

The General Assembly has until May 16 to pass a final bill to send to Governor Nixon.  If the seemingly small change to the child support law does pass, it could have a much wider impact than most people realize.

We will continue to keep you up to date on the status of the bill.

If you have questions about child support for children in college, contact us – we can help.

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