Sometimes people ask whether, as part of their divorce decree, the court can impose a requirement that their soon-to-be ex-spouse pay for college tuition for the children.  The answer is “No.”

In Minnesota, a divorce court has jurisdiction over minor children only until they become adults.  In most cases, a child becomes an adult when he or she reaches the age of 18 years and has also graduated from high school.  (An 18 year old or 19 year old who is still enrolled in high school is considered a child, at least for child support purposes).  There are other ways in which a child can emancipate before turning 18–getting married or joining the military are two ways that come to mind.

But, once a child has emanciapted, the divorce decree can no longer require a parent to support him or her.  And, a divorce judge in Minnesota cannot order a parent to pay for college tuition for his or her adult child. 

However, if the parties agree to it, a provision requiring one or both parents to pay for college tuition can be included in the divorce decree.  This has to be voluntary on the part of the person agreeing to make the payment.

Generally, I do not think this is a good idea.  The way I see it, if someone wants to pay for their child’s college tuition, more power to them.  But to agree to become obligated to do so doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  Its hard to know the future.  Its hard to know whether you will be employed when your child starts college.  Its hard to know whether your child will study hard and get good grades, or use the four years of college to major in partying.  There are so many variables.  Its best to leave it out of the divorce decree and then pay for it (voluntarily) when the time comes.