Can A Court Order Payment of College Expenses?

In a divorce proceeding, can a Texas court order one or both parents to pay future college expenses as additional child support?  No.  The court has no authority to order either parent to support a child once they emancipate at the later of attaining 18 years of age or graduating high school.  An exception exists for a disabled child incapable of self-support, but we’ll skip that discussion and focus only on payment of college expenses for a normal, healthy child.

All is not lost, however.  The parties can agree to do things “contractually” that a court has no authority to compel them to do.   So, it is possible to include in a divorce decree an agreement for payment by one parent, or allocation among the parents, of college expenses.  The agreement would have to be worded such that it is binding and enforceable — not as child support — but as a contract.  It should be noted that it’s possible to include in the contract conditions on payment of college expenses, such as that the child maintain a certain grade point average or “top out” at a maximum age (e.g. 22, 23, or 24 yrs old) whether or not the child has graduated college.  If the condition occurs, the contractual obligation to pay could terminate.

See a qualified family law attorney to ensure that any agreement to pay college expenses (and any conditions placed on the agreement) are properly worded so they are binding and enforceable as a contract.  Realize that failure to honor the contract will not be punishable by contempt (as with failure to pay child support).  The correct remedy would a suit for breach of contract that seeks damages (i.e. a money judgment)).

Author Jim Cramp is a retired active duty colonel and principal attorney at the Cramp Law Firm.  The Cramp Law Firm provides a spectrum of family-related legal services in the greater San Antonio Region.