Scholarships, College, and Divorce: What Do Parents Have to Pay?


A divorce ends a marriage, but if the spouses are parents, divorce does not end their relationship. If you are divorcing in Pennsylvania or if you are involved in a dispute over child support after your divorce, you must be advised and represented by a Pennsylvania child support attorney.

After a divorce in Pennsylvania, will a parent be obligated to pay for a child’s college tuition? What are a Pennsylvania parent’s rights and obligations when it comes to child support? What do divorced and divorcing parents need to know about the child support laws in this state?

If you’ll keep reading this brief discussion of a divorced parent’s child support obligations in Pennsylvania, these questions will be answered, and you will also learn how a Pennsylvania family law attorney will provide the legal help you may need in a child support dispute.

How Does Pennsylvania Law Address Child Support?

All Pennsylvania parents are legally obligated to provide financial support for their children. When a divorce is finalized, a child support order will be issued by the court requiring one parent to make monthly payments to the other parent to share the expenses of child-raising.

The parent who has the most time with the child (the “custodial parent”) usually receives child support payments from the other (“noncustodial”) parent. Pennsylvania law presumes that a custodial parent already supports the child financially.

The amount of child support ordered by the court is based on the state’s child support guidelines, which take into account the number of children and the income of each parent. Judges have some flexibility to account for a child’s needs, a parent’s ability to pay, and the custody arrangement.

When May Judges Diverge From the Child Support Guidelines?

On the basis of the factors listed below, a Pennsylvania judge may increase or decrease the amount of child support indicated by the state’s child support guidelines:

  1.  a parent’s or child’s unusual needs or unusual obligations
  2.  a parents’ other child support obligations
  3.  the child’s age
  4.  the combined assets and liabilities of the parents
  5.  medical costs not covered by health insurance
  6.  the family’s standard of living
  7.  most importantly, the child’s best interests

In any matter involving a child that comes before a Pennsylvania court, the child’s best interests will always be the court’s highest priority.

For How Long Are Child Support Payments Required?

In most cases, a noncustodial parent in Pennsylvania must make child support payments until a child reaches the age of 18. If the child is physically or emotionally challenged or disabled, the court may order child support payments to continue beyond the child’s 18th birthday.

Generally speaking, the expenses of a child’s education are addressed in the divorce process along with the other child support issues.

While several states require some divorced parents to pay for their children’s college expenses, Pennsylvania does not require college expense payments or reimbursement for those payments from a parent.

Should You Negotiate College Costs With the Other Parent?

Nevertheless, to keep a dispute over child support payments from emerging in the future, you may choose to negotiate college tuition costs during the divorce process. Take into account scholarship opportunities and other tuition payment options, and adhere to your lawyer’s advice.

A modification of the child support order may be requested at any time, and is sometimes necessary, but you will save time and money by negotiating with the other parent and reaching agreements, if possible, during the divorce process. Here are several possible options:

  1.  In some cases, a parent who served in the military may transfer GI Bill benefits to a child or spouse. If that parent is the noncustodial parent, he or she may negotiate, for example, that the transfer covers a child’s college expenses or decreases child support payments.
  2.  If one parent is employed by a college or university, these institutions often reduce tuition for employees’ families, but a negotiated agreement with the other parent must consider what happens if the parent leaves the job or a child doesn’t wish to attend that institution.
  3.  When parents negotiate a child support agreement, they should also determine what effect a scholarship award to the child may have on the amount each parent has agreed to pay.

When May a Child Support Agreement Be Changed?

The courts understand that life’s circumstances change. When you divorce, it is impossible to know the future. Over time, parenting plans and child custody orders can become outdated or unworkable.

However, if you need to change a negotiated child support agreement or a court-ordered child support arrangement, you will need to have a Pennsylvania child support attorney request a modification of the agreement or order on your behalf.

Pennsylvania courts will approve only those modifications that are considered to be in the child’s best interests. Child support modifications may be sought for reasons that include but are not limited to:

  1.  a change in the amount of time either parent spends with the child
  2.  a change in the child’s medical, educational, or child care needs
  3.  a remarriage by either parent or the birth of a new child to either parent
  4.  either parent’s loss of a job, a parent’s new job, or a parent’s need to relocate
  5.  the serious injury, incarceration, or institutionalization of either parent
  6.  anything that greatly impacts the child, either parent, or the child support arrangement

What Else Should Parents Know?

As mentioned previously, Pennsylvania does not require college expense payments or reimbursement for those payments from a parent. Nevertheless, it is a smart idea to reach an agreement in the divorce settlement regarding a child’s college expenses.

If you are a parent who is divorcing, considering a divorce, or anticipating a divorce, if you need a modification of your child support order, or if you need to challenge the other parent’s requested modification of the child support order, you must be advised and represented by a Pennsylvania family law attorney, and you must contact that attorney as soon as possible.

Divorce and family law are complicated in the State of Pennsylvania. You can’t go it alone. Get the help you need – as quickly as you can – from a family law attorney you can trust.

The right family law attorney will help you obtain a fair and proper child support arrangement while ensuring that your rights – and your child’s best interests – are protected throughout the legal process.