Q At the time of my divorce in 1990, our agreement had two clauses regarding child support,
one saying I can stop paying when a child got to age 21 unless they were in college, and then I could
stop at age 23. The other was that all child support would stop when a child went to college and I’d
pay all college and related expenses, which is what I did.
I fully paid for our son’s college. He graduated in four years. But our daughter, now age 30,
spent eight years in five different colleges; without earning a degree. She just started a two-year
college program to get her degree, which she’s paying for by taking out student loans.
Now my Ex served me with a contempt claiming I’m obligated to pay 1) our daughter’s
student loans, 2) her ongoing college expenses until she finishes college and 3) my ex’s legal fees.
Does she have a valid claim?
A. Good question. Most folks don’t clearly define how long one or both parents will be
responsible for paying undergraduate college expenses. They just assume child support stops at the
earliest of graduating college or attaining age 23. You agreed to stop paying child support in
exchange for your paying your daughter’s college expenses.
I can’t give you a solid answer because you didn’t send me a copy of the agreement. But it is
clear you need to hire an experienced family law attorney to carefully examine your agreement and to
represent you at the contempt hearing.
But not having a clear agreement can work in your favor. That’s because your ex has to
prove by clear and convincing evidence that there is a clear court order which you willfully violated.
If your agreement is silent on how long you’re obligated to pay for college, there is no clear order.
It takes four years to get a Bachelor’s degree. That changes a year or so, depending on the
student, which is why the statute has the top-out at age 23. You’ve already paid for eight years of
college and your daughter’s 23 rd birthday was seven years ago.
So I believe the judge won’t order you to pay anything more for your daughter’s college or
So your answer to the contempt should request: 1) the court order your obligation to pay
college ended on your daughter 23 rd birthday, 2) the contempt be dismissed with prejudice and 3) ,
because there was no clear court order, your ex should pay your legal fees for filing her frivolous