Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
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Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)
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Senate Bill Allows Divorced Parents To Stop Paying College Expenses When Their Kids Become 21

Senate Bill No. 25 is sitting on Governor Matt Blunt’s desk, which if signed could force hundreds of Missouri kids to drop out of college just as they were beginning their senior year this fall.

 

SB 25 reworks much of Missouri’s domestic relations law relating to children. Among its most significant provisions is a section that lowers from age 22 to age 21 the last date by which a parent can be obligated to pay child support for a youngster still in college.

 

Under current law, a parent’s obligation to make child support payments generally ends when the child dies, marries, enters active duty in the military, become self-supporting and is no longer under parental control, or reaches age 18. This law, in effect since I began practicing over 25 years ago, extends the obligation beyond age 18 for children who are still in school, be that high school, college or vocational, until that child reaches age 22, assuming the child carries a minimum number of credit hours and remains a student in good standing without dropping out for longer than the summer break. SB 25 lowers the end date to age 21.

 

Once a child begins attending college, the child support obligation segregates into two portions. The first is the obligation to provide for the child’s necessities of life-- room and board, food, clothing etc.-- and every parent is expected to pick up their share of these costs when the child is living at home. College expenses…tuition, books, and dormitory costs for those going away to college…are not included in the support calculation. These only become part of the parent’s court-ordered payment if the court determines that the parent has the financial wherewithal to bear the additional expense.

 

When this extra expense is affordable, and upon a petition by one or both parents, the court will add the college expenses to the support calculation. Since 1989, most Missouri courts have constructed the college expense obligation using language crafted in a case called Echele v. Echele. This usually results in each parent paying 50% of the tuition, fees , books and room and board, limited to no more than what is charged by the University of Missouri at Columbia no matter what college the child attends.

 

Importantly, this obligation ends after 8 college semesters, but in every case that I am aware of, these orders do not include an age by which the obligation terminates. Family lawyers, me included, have always assumed that the obligation would not extend beyond the age 22 limit long specified in Missouri law.

 

If the Governor signs SB 25, the obligation to pay support for children attending college drops to age 21, including, in my judgment, the obligation to pay college expenses written under the guidance of Echele. This sets up the possibility that some parents, and perhaps many, wishing to extract themselves from this duty will simply stop paying these bills once their child turns 21, or petition the court to relieve them of the obligation, based on the new law.

 

Some elementary school math makes it clear that the senior class of 2008 will be the one first impacted if Senate Bill 25 becomes law. Most high schoolers are 18 when they graduate and, assuming a traditional path, reach age 22 when completing college. As such, the college class of ’08 will have been 21 by the conclusion of their junior year, disqualified from receiving additional parental support under the proposed bill.

 

It remains to be seen how many parents follow through and seek the cover of the new law to cut their kids off. But, presumably, the Legislature lowered the age limit because it believed there is a significant constituency in Missouri that wants this relief.