Parenting is a very expensive social responsibility. Once someone has a child, they have a legal obligation under Tennessee state law to provide for that child’s basic needs. Parents should be able to provide food and shelter, as well as basic medical care and access to necessary amenities like healthcare, for example.
Parents living together pool their resources and share responsibility to offer their children the best quality of life possible. When parents divorce, they generally need to split their obligations with each other in addition to sharing their parental rights. Both parents usually continue to play a role in raising the children and supporting them financially.
Financial obligations to children in a household often take the form of child support ordered by the courts. One parent has an obligation to send regular payments to cover a child’s costs, which helps to ensure that they have the necessary resources to thrive. Can a parent receiving child support count on those payments to help cover college costs for their children?
The courts do not mandate college support
The unfortunate reality for those with college-bound teenagers is that the Tennessee family courts do not recognize a parental obligation after the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school. Any additional support provided after that point is entirely voluntary. Even when parents know that their children will attend college, they will not be able to ask the courts to extend child support orders through someone’s college years. The children will need to report the income of both parents on forms determining their eligibility for financial aid, but there is no promise that both parents will contribute to their support during college.
However, parents can acknowledge and plan for college financial expenses when negotiating the terms of a divorce or separation. Parents can reach a mutual agreement dividing college expenses and helping ensure that both parents will provide support for tuition, housing and other necessary costs associated with someone’s college degree.
Ideally, parents will be able to work with each other and put the needs of the children and their family first when discussing financial obligations and a child’s educational future. Learning more about the rules that apply to child support and parental responsibility may help those preparing for negotiations with the other parent of their children to craft a particularly informed and effective approach.