The Rachel Manning case, among many others, seems to imply that children are entitled to college expense contributions from their divorced parents. In theory, parents – married, divorced, separated – should contribute towards a post-secondary education, which is pretty much a necessity in this day and age. However, there are plenty of cases where parents refuse to help for perfectly legitimate reasons. These reasons include a child showing no aptitude for college, or constantly rebelling against basic, reasonable rules that are set by the parents. If the parents are married, they can simply cut off the child, but the options are much more complicated for divorced parents.
As in the Manning case, an adult child or the primary custodian would have to sue the other parent for financial support, which by the way, may be on top of child support. Still, that support is not automatically guaranteed (although admittedly, the courts do seem to favor the child). In fact, a child's relationship, or sometimes non-relationship, is a critical factor in the awarding of college contributions. That's why it's important for divorced parents to understand how the courts define a damaged parent-child relationship. Furthermore, they need to know what measures the courts take before finally deciding in favor or either the child or parent.
As a general rule, the courts will examine the circumstances that led to the problems between the two parties. Unless reunification seems impossible or dangerous for either of the parties, the courts will probably recommend joint counseling as a condition of on-going support, in the hopes that it can help repair the relationship. The courts also consider the child's choice of college, especially if it's an expensive out-of-state institution. Depending on the child's needs and/or aptitude, a private college may be appropriate, but the child would need to show why a state school isn't in his or her best interest. Finally, the courts must examine any extenuating factors, such as additional siblings who are expected to attend college in the upcoming years. In those cases, a reasonable plan would need to worked out which fairly allocates present and future resources for all the children.
Now, it should be stressed that even with the order to attend counseling, the child may refuse to attend, and still be awarded on-going support. For example, the counseling sessions may not be having any effect, except to make things worse between the parent and child. In such cases, the court may order a set number of mandatory sessions in order to continue contributions as a last ditch effort at repairing the relationship. If there is no improvement afterwards, the court would have to make a final decision on whether or not contributions would be continued. This is undoubtedly a complicated, multi-step process, no matter which side you're on. If you are in need of legal advice on college contributions or any other financial support issues, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.