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College Support Orders in Indiana: Part 1

As the parent of a high school senior making college decisions this year, I thought this would be a good time to write about how college support orders work in Indiana. 

Indiana is in the minority of states which allow courts to require parents to pay a portion of the college expenses for their children. Only those parents who have a divorce or paternity matter in Indiana are subject to this statute; parents who remain married are not subject to such an order. This difference in treatment has been appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court and upheld. 

The theory behind this law is that children of divorced (or never married) parents tend to have significantly less family support to attend college. Thus, the college orders are justified, to prevent children of divorced parents from being unjustly deprived of opportunities they would have had if their parents had remained together. While the issue of terminating or restricting college orders comes up in the legislature periodically (and, indeed, has been discussed recently), this remains the law at present. 

If you wish to request a college order and you don’t have one in your divorce or paternity order, the date of your divorce filing impacts whether you have to file a petition for college expenses before the child turns 19, or whether you have until age 21 to file. To be safe, either file the petition prior to age 19, or consult an attorney about your particular deadline. I generally recommend that the petition be filed late in a student’s junior or early in their senior year of high school.

The court can look at the financial circumstances of the parents and the child’s college aptitude, choice of college and ability to contribute, in determining what a fair college contribution from the parents should be.

College orders can include room and board expenses as well as tuition and fees, and can be capped and/or require the child to maintain a certain GPA, and provide the parents copies of transcripts and grades.

One of the more complicated issues can arise when a child in college is over the age of 19 but living at a parent’s home during college. No support is owed for a child over 19, but housing expenses for college can still be ordered. How that is determined is not specified in the statute, but there is case law which addresses this issue. This amount should be based on the actual cost incurred for room and board and should take into account the factors in Indiana Code § 31-16-6-2 in determining the proper allocation. This can be a difficult and contentious calculation.

Another issue which arises in the area of college orders is that of repudiation – when a relationship between a parent and child has broken down, does the parent still have to contribute to college?  

To be continued!