Divorce often brings about its fair share of financial challenges, and the hidden cost of college expenses only adds to the burden. As parents navigate the complexities of child support laws in Missouri, they must also consider the additional financial obligations that come with supporting their child's college education. This can catch many parents off guard, as they may not have anticipated the need to financially support their child beyond high school. It is crucial that parents know their rights and responsibilities under Missouri's child support laws.
Understanding Missouri Law
Under current Missouri law, child support continues past high school until age 21, as long as the child attends college or a vocational school. In addition, parents can also be obligated to pay college expenses until the age of 21. Pursuant to Section 452.340.5 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, for child support to remain in place and for parents to be responsible for college costs, the following requirements must be met:
- Hours Requirement. Child must enroll at minimum 12 credit hours per semester, not including summer. If the child works at least 15 hours per week during the semester, the required hours are reduced from 12 to nine credit hours.
- Grades Requirement. Child must successfully complete the required number of credit hours, meaning no failing grades in at least 12 hours per semester.
- No Time Off Requirement. Generally, the child must enroll by October 1 following the child’s graduation from high school. This means that if the child takes a semester off before starting college, typically, the child support obligation would terminate and could not be reinstated if the child enrolls in college after that point, even if the child is under age 21 when the child enrolls. In addition, the child must be continuously enrolled in school, meaning that child support would terminate and could not be reinstated if the child takes a semester off.
- Document Exchange Requirement. The child must provide transcripts or similar official documents to both parents at the beginning of each semester, detailing the child’s enrollment in classes and grades.
The law provides exceptions to the requirements above, including but not limited to a physical disability or other diagnosed health problem. In addition, the court will consider other circumstances that may justify a delay in starting school by October 1 after graduation or require a child to take a semester off.
If a child fails to meet the requirements above, the parent paying child support will need to file the appropriate documents with the court to initiate the court process to terminate child support.
If the child is enrolled in an institution and meets the requirements above, the parent paying child support, or the child, may petition the court to have child support payments paid directly to the child instead of paying the other parent.
How Collaborative Divorce Can Help
While the court in contested cases can only obligate parents to pay for certain expenses until age 21, many parents agree as part of their divorce judgment to pay for expenses past age 21 and to include these agreements as part of their settlement agreement. For example, both parents will pay 50% of college expenses for eight semesters or even later if the parents wish to pay for graduate school or medical school.
Through the collaborative divorce process, parents can reach creative agreements for post-high school expenses that will work for everyone. In a traditional divorce case, the attorneys and judge often do not have the capacity or ability to explore creative options. With the support of the financial professional and the cooperative dynamic of the entire collaborative divorce team, parents can explore options for dividing property or setting aside assets to capture the most available funds for the entire family.
Consulting with a collaborative divorce attorney will ensure that you are educated not only about the law, but about your options for working through the divorce process.