It’s no secret college tuition, room and board, books, and related fees is extremely expensive. In a recent study, the College Board reports that a moderate college budget for in-state public college every academic year is $24,610, whereas a moderate budget for a private collage is $40,320. Married persons with the same children can choose whether, and to what extent, to assist their children with college expenses. In some states, however, children of divorcing or divorced parents may get a surprise from the Court, as in an order to pay all or some of the child’s college tuition and fees!
Unlike Nebraska and South Dakota, the State of Iowa is one of approximately seventeen states where a Court can order divorcing parents to pay part or all of the child’s college tuition and fees. This can be done one of two ways in the State of Iowa. First, divorcing parents may agree by written stipulation, which can be approved by the Court, if and to what extent they will help pay for their children’s college expenses, legally referred to as a post-secondary education subsidy. If divorcing parents do not agree to pay post-secondary education expenses, the Court can, upon application of either parent, mandate how and to what extent each parent will pay for the child’s college expenses. To do so, the Court must first find good cause for the educational subsidy for any child of divorcing or divorced parents who is between the ages of 17 and 23.
Once good cause exists, the Court must determine the cost of postsecondary education based upon the reasonable cost of attending an in-state public college. Generally, the cost of undergraduate studies is the average cost of tuition, room, board, books, and supplies at the local public undergraduate institutions (for example, the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa).
Unlike some states which can require divorcing parents to pay 100% of a child’s college tuition, the most Iowa Courts can order either parent to provide is one-third of the total costs. In other words, at most, each parent may be responsible for a maximum of one-third of the cost, while the student is responsible for the remaining one-third. In making this order, the Court must determine the amount the child can contribute to his/her college education, taking into consideration things such as the child’s financial resources, grants, scholarships, student loans, ability to earn wages while attending school, and monies saved or gifted for college expenses. Clearly, this is not an appropriate determination for the Court until the child nears age 17 or is capable of applying for college grants, scholarships, etc.
If a post-secondary education subsidy is ordered, it is to be paid to the child and/or the educational institution, not to the other parent. Further, within ten days of completing each academic session, the child must forward to each parent his/her grade reports. Unless the parents agree otherwise, a postsecondary education subsidy awarded by the Court shall end when the child completes the first calendar year of course instruction if the child fails to maintain a cumulative grade point average of at least the median range that first calendar year. In other words, the child must keep some skin in the game and can’t pull a “Van Wilder” (e.g. a permanent student who takes the minimum class load and passes classes by the skin of his/her teeth).
Significantly, if a child has repudiated (e.g. disowned, abandoned, refuses to acknowledge his/her parent), a post-secondary education subsidy shall not be ordered.
There has been some talk among attorneys and legislators regarding trying to get rid of this somewhat strange law. What is your opinion? Should Courts be able to order divorcing or divorced parents to pay up to one-third of a child’s undergraduate studies when married persons cannot be ordered to do so?
The information contained is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act or rely on any information herein.