Can a Florida court order a parent to pay for college expenses?

Understanding the Duty to Pay for College Expenses in Florida

One of the key concerns for parents navigating through a divorce is the future financial obligations they might have towards their children's education. While many states have provisions that could require divorced parents to contribute to their child's college expenses, Florida's approach to this matter is unique.

Florida Law on Post-Minority Support

In the state of Florida, there is no statutory requirement for a parent to provide financial support or pay for college expenses for a child who has reached the age of majority. The age of majority in Florida is 18, and once a child reaches this threshold, they are legally considered an adult with the capacity to make their own decisions, including those related to their education.

Court Orders Regarding College Expenses

Florida courts generally cannot order a parent to pay for college expenses as part of child support once the child is an adult. This is based on the principle that child support typically terminates when a child reaches the age of majority or graduates from high school, whichever comes later, as long as the child is 19 or under. However, there are certain circumstances where the courts may deviate from this standard.

For example, if both parties agree during divorce proceedings that one or both parents will bear the cost of their child's college education, this agreement can be included in the marital settlement agreement and thus become a legally enforceable contract. Parents might agree to share tuition costs, room and board, books, and other college-related expenses as part of their divorce settlement.

Voluntary Agreements and Enforcement

A parent's obligation to pay for college expenses in Florida typically stems from such voluntary agreements. Once these provisions are included in a finalized divorce decree or settlement agreement, they can be enforced by the court. Failing to abide by these terms can result in legal penalties similar to those associated with failing to pay child support.

Historical References and Court Rulings

In cases like Rosen v. Rosen, the Florida Supreme Court found that post-majority support for education expenses could not be ordered without a prior agreement. It's important to recognize that while such rulings set precedents, they do not prevent parents from reaching their own agreements regarding their children's educational costs.

Another important case was Shaver v. Shaver, where a Florida court enforced an agreement between parents to finance their child's college education after divorce. These cases illustrate how agreements between parents at the time of divorce play a critical role in determining obligations related to college expenses.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while a Florida court generally cannot order a parent to pay for a child's college expenses after they reach adulthood, exceptions exist if there is a mutual agreement between the divorcing parties. Such agreements must be clearly stated in a marital settlement and approved by the court to be enforceable. Parents considering divorce in Florida should carefully negotiate and document any intentions regarding their children's higher education costs within their divorce settlement.