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Are a Divorced Parent’s Due Process Rights Violated by an Order Compelling Payments For a Child’s College Tuition when There is No Law Requiring Married Parents to Pay Anything Toward College?

In a September 21, 2016 Opinion of the Indiana Court of Appeals, the Court held “no.” In the case of Heavrin v Tearman, a Father appealed an order requiring him to contribute one-third the costs of his daughter’s college education.   Father argued that it was against his due process rights to force him to pay for college as a divorced parent, when there is no law obligating married parents to contribute any money toward college.  He argued that he could not afford to pay the cost of his daughter’s tuition at Ball State University, that he had step-children who were paying their own way in college, and that he believed his daughter should have a “financial stake” in her education by securing loans for the full amount so that she would “understand the importance of taking her education seriously.” 

The Court of Appeals disagreed finding that an educational support order is akin with child support and that it is within a trial court’s discretion to award a college contribution order in the case of a divorce.  Moreover, the Court found that ordering each parent and the daughter to share the costs of college in thirds was appropriate.  In that case, the daughter was awarded a scholarship and grants that covered her one-third obligation.  The Court of Appeals held that daughter was entitled to apply and use her earned scholarship and grant monies to pay for and contribute toward her responsibility toward college - not the parents.  The fact that the daughter qualified to receive student loans was of no consequence to the Court.  She may or may not need to secure a loan to pay for any additional expenses, but she was not obligated to secure the loan to pay or front her parent’s respective one-third obligation.

There are similar cases in Indiana almost every year challenging post secondary education orders.  While it may seem unfair that there’s no law requiring married couples to pay for college, courts are routinely ordering divorced parents to do so.  Indiana Code § 31-16-6-2(a) provides that a child support order or an educational support order may include:

1) amounts for the child’s education in elementary and secondary schools and at postsecondary education institutions, taking into account:  

A) the child’s aptitude and ability;

B) the child’s reasonable ability to contribute to educational expense through:

                  (i) work;

                  (ii) obtaining loans; and

                  (iii) obtaining other sources of financial aid reasonably available to the child and each parent; and

C) the ability of each parent to meet those expenses.  

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