I am sometimes asked about how the issue of college tuition plays into divorce proceedings in Minnesota. The short answer is that it doesn’t.
I am aware of some state in which a court can require a parent to pay for their children’s college tuition as part of a divorce judgment and decree. In Minnesota, courts do not have the legal authority to do this unless the parent or parents agree. If a parent does not agree, then a Minnesota court cannot order that parent to pay for their children’s college tuition.
The reason for this is simple. In Minnesota, a child is considered a child until he or she has attained the age of 18 and has graduated from high school, or up to age 20 if still in high school school, or married, joined the military, or otherwise emancipated. Once any of these events occurs, the child becomes an adult. The only exception to this is that a child who is developmentally disabled to the extent that he or she will not be able to become self-supporting can remain a “child” indefinitely.
Child support is an obligation of a parent to support his or her child. Parents are not obligated to support their adult children. Often parents choose to do so, but in Minnesota, the law cannot compel them to do so. This means that a court cannot compel a parent to pay for the college tuition of his or her adult child.
Sometimes parents voluntarily enter into an agreement that allows the court to order them to pay college tuition. Generally, I do not think this is a good idea, especially if the children are younger children. It is simply too difficult to predict far into the future to know whether such an agreement is a good idea. And of course, a parent can always voluntarily pay for his or her child’s college tuition, regardless of whether a court order requires it.
For parents who do agree to an order, I advise them that the order should have a limited dollar amount and should be contingent on the child’s attaining a particular grade point average. A parent does not want to be stuck in a situation in which he or she has to pay exorbitant tuition for a child who is failing every class because he or she parties too much.