College Support Orders – How Do Judges Divide College Expenses Between A Divorced Couple?

In the academic year of 2022-2023, the average undergraduate tuition and fees for Indiana colleges stood at $6,775 for in-state and $20,354 for out-of-state students; however, tuition for some Indiana higher education institutions is significantly higher. The University of Notre Dame, for instance, boasts the highest tuition and fees at a staggering $60,301.

Tuition is only part of the story, however. The cost per credit hour, for example, averages $270 for state residents and $935 for out-of-state students. Books and supplies add another $1,108 to the bill, while living costs tally up to $11,369 for on-campus living and $9,992 for off-campus accommodations.[1]

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Are parents responsible for paying for a child’s college and higher education expenses in Indiana?

As experienced child custody lawyers at Mattox & Wilson, we regularly find ourselves answering a crucial question for many parents: “Are parents responsible for paying for a child’s college and higher education expenses in Indiana?” Let’s delve into this complex issue, exploring the various aspects that influence this significant financial responsibility.

If you have child custody or support questions, we invite you to call our office at 812-944-8005 to schedule a consultation. We can listen to your concerns and objectives, explain your potential obligations under Indiana law, and tenaciously fight for a fair and equitable outcome in your child custody matter.

The Statutory Basis for College Expense Apportionment

The statute governing college expenses in Indiana gives judges discretion to apportion college expenses in any manner they deem fit. Many judges ask the child to shoulder a portion of the total costs (which can typically be offset with grants, scholarships, or loans). The parents, then, are often responsible for paying the outstanding balance of the college expenses, but the exact division between them depends on their respective incomes.

For example, if the total college expense for a semester is $6,000, and Mom’s weekly income is $1,200, while Dad’s is $800, and the child covers the initial $2,000. Mom, earning 60% of the combined parental income, pays 60% of the remainder ($2,400) and Dad covers the rest ($1,600).

What Constitutes College Expenses?

The cost of college extends far beyond just the tuition fee. A true picture of college expenses takes into account several key components, which together make up the overall financial commitment. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of what constitutes college expenses.

  • Tuition and Fees. At the heart of college costs are tuition and related fees, representing the fundamental charges for the courses and mandatory college services. On average, these costs constitute approximately 38% of the total college expenses.
  • Housing Expenses. College students must pay for housing expenses, be it on-campus or off-campus. This housing cost takes up a significant portion of the total college expenses, averaging about 41%. This encompasses the cost of the room, any utility expenses, and often a meal plan.
  • Books and Supplies. Essential tools for academic success, books, and supplies like notebooks, pens, and specific course materials, are an additional cost. Though these aren’t included in the tuition and fees, they’re an indispensable part of education. They usually account for around 6% of the total college costs.
  • Transportation and Miscellaneous Costs. Finally, it’s important to consider other regular expenditures, such as transportation and miscellaneous costs. This category includes expenses for things like travel to and from home, clothes, and personal care items. It also factors in any extracurricular activities or personal entertainment. These costs are estimated to make up about 15% of the total college spending.[2]

Indiana’s Unique Stance on College Expenses

Indiana is among a minority of states that empower courts to mandate parents to pay a part of their child’s college expenses. However, this statute applies only to parents who have undergone a divorce or have a paternity matter in the state; parents who remain married are exempt from such an order. This differential treatment, although contested, has been upheld by the Indiana Supreme Court.

You may wonder why such a law exists. The intention is to support children of divorced or never-married parents who often have less family backing to pursue a college education. Therefore, these college orders are designed to prevent these children from losing out on opportunities they would’ve had, had their parents stayed together.

Are Parents Responsible for Paying for Postsecondary Education Expenses in Indiana?

No. The Supreme Court of Indiana, in Allen v. Allen (No. 13S01-1601-DR-00053), established that divorced parents are not obligated to pay for their children’s graduate or professional school expenses. Indiana courts can mandate divorced parents to contribute to their child’s undergraduate expenses, but they cannot enforce sharing in the costs of graduate, law, medical, or other professional school expenses.

In the Allen case, the father was paying for the daughter’s undergraduate education expenses while the mother was responsible for the daughter’s health insurance. As the daughter approached her undergraduate graduation, the father sought an order to have the mother contribute to the daughter’s impending dental school expenses. The trial court refused the father’s request, deciding that he should bear the cost of the daughter’s dental school expenses, offset by any contributions from the daughter’s grants, scholarships, or loans. This ruling was challenged at the Court of Appeals and was reversed, sending the matter back to the trial court for a fresh allocation of the dental school expenses between the father, mother, and daughter.

The Supreme Court’s task was to interpret Indiana’s educational child support statute (Ind. Code § 31-16-6-2). Due to the absence of a clear definition of “postsecondary educational institutions” by the Indiana General Assembly in this context, the court referred to another section of the Indiana Code, where it was defined as an institution that provides a minimum of a two-year program of collegiate grade that contributes towards a baccalaureate degree. By this definition, graduate and professional schools were excluded.

Furthermore, the court identified a deliberate amendment by the General Assembly in 2007, substituting “institutions of higher learning” with “postsecondary educational institutions,” indicating a narrower interpretation excluding professional and graduate schools.

Lastly, the court acknowledged a significant amendment made in 2012, which lowered the presumption age for termination of child support from 21 to 19 years and allowed for a petition for educational needs until the child reaches 21. Although this applies only to the timing of filing the petition, it infers that payment of educational expenses would typically not extend beyond a baccalaureate degree, as most students do not embark on their graduate or professional studies until they are at least 21.

What Factors Do Indiana Courts Consider When Determining Support Payments for Higher Education?

While parents can certainly negotiate an agreement out of court, the court might have to step in to create a fair balance. The court’s decisions could range from an equal division, where the child and each parent cover one-third of the costs, to one parent being responsible for a larger share. Let’s examine the factors that influence these decisions.

  • The Financial Ability of the Parents. The first consideration the court takes into account is each parent’s financial ability to contribute to the child’s college expenses. This assessment includes examining savings, income, and investments. For instance, if one parent significantly out-earns the other, the court might order the wealthier parent to bear a larger portion of the expenses. Conversely, if a parent’s disposable income is limited after covering their reasonable living expenses, the court may not order them to contribute to the college costs.
  • The Child’s College Aptitude and Ability. The court also considers the child’s ability and desire to attend a higher education institution. Aspects like academic performance play a role in this assessment. For example, if the child consistently maintains above-average grades, the court may be more inclined to order parents to contribute to educational expenses.
  • The Expected Standard of Living. Another critical factor is the child’s expected standard of living if the parents had remained married. As the parent seeking college expense contributions, you’ll need to provide an account of your family’s customs and lifestyle to demonstrate that, had the marriage not dissolved, your child would have attended college with your financial support. However, without careful evidence presentation, you could inadvertently demonstrate that contribution to college education would not have occurred if the marriage had remained intact.
  • The Quality of the Child-Parent Relationship. Divorce can sometimes lead to a significant decline in the quality of a child-parent relationship. A complete refusal of the child to participate in a parent-child relationship, termed repudiation, can relieve a parent from the obligation to pay the child’s college education expenses. This highlights the importance of maintaining healthy relationships post-divorce and the potential consequences of not doing so.

When Should I File A College Support Order?

For those seeking an order regarding college expenses, it is crucial to note that the filing date of your divorce influences whether you need to file a petition for college expenses before your child turns 19 or if you have until they are 21. To err on the side of caution, we recommend filing this petition late in the child’s junior year or early in their senior year of high school, or consulting an attorney regarding your specific deadline.

A college support order can encompass room and board expenses, tuition, and fees. It can also be capped and may necessitate the child to maintain a specific GPA and share their transcripts and grades with the parents.

Schedule A Consultation With An Experienced Child Custody Attorney To Learn More About College Expense Division in Indiana.

The subject of who carries the financial burden for college expenses following a divorce is multifaceted and varies greatly depending on the individual circumstances in Indiana. It’s paramount to understand your obligations and rights, so don’t be left in the dark. I

f you find yourself seeking clarity on whether you may be responsible for your child’s college expenses, it is a prudent decision to consult with legal professionals. As child support attorneys with decades of experience, we are readily available to shed light on this complex issue and guide you through the intricacies of Indiana’s divorce laws. Take the first step towards understanding your financial responsibilities today; call Mattox & Wilson and schedule your consultation.

[1] 2023 Tuition Comparison Between Indiana Colleges, College Tuition Compare,

[2] What expenses can I expect at college?, Learn More Indiana,

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