Is your child starting college in next fall?  Experts recommend that you complete the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1, to be sure to qualify for as many benefits as possible.  Today, I’ll begin a series of three blog posts about divorce and funding college expenses.  This series will address the laws in West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.  If live in another jurisdiction, consult an attorney in your state.

How does a divorce impact paying for college?  Should you include a requirement in your divorce that you will be required to contribute to college?  How will the divorce impact your child’s admission to college and his or her financial aid?  These are the questions that I’ll be addressing in this series.

We'll start today examining the basic laws about child support.  Can child support be ordered for parents to pay for college expenses?  How much support is ordered?  How long is a parent required to pay child support?   

How much child support will be ordered?  All states have child support guidelines that courts follow to set an amount for support. The guidelines consider both parents incomes, the size of the household, where the children live and whether or not the parents are paying for health insurance or child support.  There are a number of on-line child support calculators that you can use to estimate how much child support the court will order in your case.  They may help you in your planning.  If you locate your most recent pay stubs and the amount you pay for the child's portion of health insurance, you can run the formula for West Virginia, the District of Columbia

How long is child support ordered?  

In West Virginia, the legal requirement to pay child support continues only until the turning eighteen, graduating from college or until emancipation, whichever comes last.   For example, if your child graduates from high school 2 months after he turns 18, the legal obligation stops the day he graduates.  After that, there is no legal requirement that a parent support the child.   When a child has special needs, the parents may be required to pay support beyond age eighteen.

It is never too early to start planning for college costs.   

It is never too early to start planning for college costs.


In the District of Columbia, child support continues until the child reaches the age of majority. For purposes of child support, the age of majority is 21, or when the child is demonstrated to be self-supporting.   While there is no legal requirement in District for a parent to pay for college, the parent may be required to pay support until the child is 21.  Like West Virginia, parents in the District may be required to pay support beyond 21 if the child has special needs.

Today's tip:  A judge will not require a parent to pay any amount for college or otherwise, for a child beyond the time limits and the amount required by the formula.  Only in situations where a child has a significant special need is support extended beyond emancipation or the age of majority.    In both jurisdictions, absent a contract or agreement, the parents are not required to pay for college.  Tomorrow, I’ll address the question as to when parents who are getting divorced might want to contractually agree to pay college expenses.