Are Parents Legally Obligated to Pay for College?
In 2018, 69% of college graduates had taken out student loans, the average amount of those loans totaling $29,800. With one child in college and a second looking to start next year that number is scary to me. I certainly want to help my children in any way I can to keep student loans to a minimum, but are parents legally obligated to pay for college?
Government Expects Parents to Pay
To qualify for federal financial aid, students fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA includes questions about the finances of the parent(s) of applying students, which is a determining factor in the financial aid the student qualifies for. In other words, the FAFSA assumes parents will help their children pay for college. Should parents have the means to help pay for college but opt not to, the student may actually miss out on scholarships and grants because the perceived financial need is lower.
However, even though many people may see it as their moral obligation to help pay for their children’s college and the federal government actually assumes they will, parents are not legally obligated to pay for their children’s college education.
When Are Parents Legally Obligated to Pay for College?
Of course, there are exceptions and they come into play when the parents divorce. Here are the two exceptions:
- Child Support Agreement: A divorcing couple may choose to make payment towards a college education part of the child support agreement. This creates a legal obligation that can be enforced by the courts.
- Court Ordered: Some states allow the court to mandate that a parent contribute to a child’s college education. The thought process is, when parents divorce it disrupts the flow of the lifestyle a child may have enjoyed had the parents stayed together. A list of how each state deals with court ordered college support can be found here. These laws do tend to change over time.
Under normal situations, parents are not legally obligated to pay for college. However, exceptions exist when a couple divorces. Legal obligations can be created in the form of a child support agreement or even ordered by the court in some states.
How about you, Clever Friends, do you think parents should be legally obligated to pay for their children’s college education under any circumstances?
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