It has been well established in Indiana that a court may order a divorced parent to contribute toward his or her child’s post-secondary education expenses under a child support order. What has not been determined, is whether or not that contribution could include graduate or professional school after four years of college. On June 1, 2016 the Indiana Supreme Court addressed this issue that had never been before been decided in our state. In Allen v. Allen our Supreme Court said no.
Indiana Code 31-16-6-2 determines the factors to consider when the court makes an educational support order.
The child support order or an educational support order may also include,
(1) amounts for the child’s education in elementary and secondary schools and at
postsecondary educational institutions, taking into account:
(A) the child’s aptitude and ability;
(B) the child’s reasonable ability to contribute to educational expenses
(ii) obtaining loans; and
(iii) obtaining other sources of financial aid reasonably available to
the child and each parent; and
(C) the ability of each parent to meet these expenses
The parties in Allen disagreed on the meaning of “post-secondary” education. Mother wanted to limit the meaning to only college. Father wanted to include graduate or professional school (in their case dental school), since that too was post-secondary. Our Indiana Supreme Court reasoned that recent amendments to the child support statutes revealed the Legislature’s intent to limit parental financial obligations after children reach the age of majority.
For instance, effective July 1, 2012, the Legislature amended Indiana Code § 31-16-6-6, which lowered the presumptive age for termination of child support from 21 to 19 years old. Similarly, Ind. Code §§ 31-16-6-6 (c) and (d) allow a parent or child to file a petition for educational needs until the child becomes 21 (for orders prior to July 1, 2012) or 19 (for orders issued after June 30, 2012). These provisions address the timing for petitioning for an award of educational expenses and do not explicitly contain a more substantive limitation. However, because the age limits for filing a petition are the same as the presumptive age for termination of support and a child would typically not yet be in graduate school before reaching age 19 or 21, the provisions show that the legislature wanted to have limitations for payment of educational expenses that do not include education beyond a baccalaureate degree.
Indiana is one of the few states that even has a statute providing for the educational expenses of children once they have reached the age of majority. Most states have no statutes or case law requiring that divorced parents provide for college expenses absent an agreement to do so. Of the states that do allow for payment of college expenses, the majority of those states limit payment of such expenses to a certain age, thus precluding a requirement that a parent pay for graduate or professional school expenses or even a second baccalaureate degree.