Child support can be a tricky business, especially if it comes after the breakdown of a relationship or the child is an unexpected surprise. When you combine often complex legal jargon with those strong emotions, it can be difficult to get to grips with what your child support obligations are versus what Mom might want beyond that. It’s important to know what exactly it is the law requires you to pay in regards to your child(ren)’s college expenses so that you’re able to make a better decision on what you can best afford to do.
The Basic Rules of Child Support
Let’s get down to brass tacks. In Virginia, custodial parents have a legal right to child support from the non-custodial parent. This is an amount set by a specific formula laid out in law that basically takes into account your income and your outgoings balanced against how much custody you have and what the child’s needs are. While the grid table for working this out is detailed in VA. Code § 20-108.2., when you have a look yourself, you’ll most likely be hard pressed to come to any firm numbers. The easiest way to find out your child support costs is by going to a family law attorney, who will use software that can check it for you.
What are Your Child Support Obligations When Your Child Hits 18?
Your legal obligations to pay child support end when your child reaches 18, or 19 if they’re still in high school. Unless they are permanently disabled in a way that affects their ability to ever live alone and unsupported, you will no longer have to make payments.
But there’s always a “however.”
College Expenses and Your Separation Agreement
First of all, a Virginia court cannot order you to pay for college. In addition, a parent is under no obligation to support their adult child, and with the cost of college education skyrocketing, many mothers will push for the inclusion of college expenses within a Separation Agreement. This is a contract that you both sign that can extend beyond what you’re required to pay for child support by law. At this point, it could be that your relationship with your child’s mother is workable and you feel, along with a healthy dose of the guilt treatment that you can afford to pay more towards your child, and even offer to pay towards (or all of!) their college expenses.
It’s easy to fall into a trap of agreeing to more than you can justify or may be able to afford years down the road. After all, how can you tell where you or your child will be in fifteen years’ time? Separation Agreements are legal contracts in the courts, and are very easily enforceable, so it’s important not to take on obligations you can’t be certain you’ll be able to follow through with considering the cost of a college education increases by the year. This is doubly important when there’s more than one child, or if you could in the next 18 years have another child yourself. With a Separation Agreement being treated as a legal contract between two consenting adults, your child, as the 3rd party beneficiary, even has the right to sue to have provisions for college expenses enforced.
Without a written agreement, you have absolutely no legal requirement to support your adult child. This doesn’t have to mean you aren’t going to support them, of course. Many parents agree to both pay into a savings account in the years leading up to the child’s adulthood, such as a 529 account. This is generally an informal agreement, so you’re able to pay as much or as little as you’re able to afford through the years, allows Mom to contribute, too, lets the money accrue a little interest, and then gives your child the flexibility to access money for their college expenses when they need it, if that’s after 18 or when they’re 25.
Did You Already Agree to Pay Your Child’s College Expenses?
It could be that you’ve already signed an agreement agreeing to pay for your adult child’s college expenses, but have now realized you don’t have the means to do so. In this case, you may be looking at building a case to have the agreement provision’s changed in court. A good family law attorney will be able to better guide you through the ins and outs of how to have a provision changed and how to enter into negotiations. If you originally agreed to an amount or used terms that are vaguely worded or undefined, you could have the opportunity to argue in court that they’re not practically enforceable
Protect Yourself with The Firm For Men
Ultimately, the trick to making sure you aren’t on the hook for supporting your adult child more than you can reasonably afford is to read up on the rules. Thankfully, the law in Virginia is crystal clear regarding your rights. The harder issue by far is being firm with your child’s family and potentially yours in what you feel comfortable committing to in a legal contract.
Go into the discussion with a calm and level head to show that it isn’t about wanting to score points or abandon your children to the wolves. By proposing a solution that both parents can contribute to, like a Virginia 529 account, you can better help get across that you want to come to a happy compromise rather than an aggressive negotiation. To find out what your options are, contact The Firm For Men, the only family law firm in Virginia protecting men’s rights exclusively, at 757-383-9184 for a consultation.