Justices: Divorced parents don’t have to pay graduate school costs for their children

In a unanimous decision, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled divorced parents cannot be obligated to pay the graduate or professional school expenses of their adult children in a case where a mother and father were forced to share a child’s dental school expenses after she completed her undergraduate degree.

David and Kimberly Allen divorced in 2002 and agreed to share custody of their two children. They agreed to a modification in 2010 where David Allen would be responsible for their daughter’s educational expenses and Kimberly Allen would be responsible for her health insurance.

David Allen petitioned for another change of the agreed order in 2013, seeking to have the daughter’s dental school expenses divided between him and his ex-wife. The trial court denied his order, but the Court of Appeals reversed it, ruling the trial court erred by making David Allen liable for the expenses and rejecting mother’s cross-appeal argument that the trial court lacks authority to order the parents to pay for their child’s graduate school expenses. The mother sought transfer and it was granted by the Supreme Court.

In a decision written by Justice Steven David, the court examined Indiana Code 31-16-6-2, which states in part, “The child support order or an educational support order may also include, where appropriate, amounts for the child’s education in elementary and secondary schools and at postsecondary educational institutions … .”

David wrote “postsecondary” means an organized two-year or longer program of collegiate grade directly creditable toward a baccalaureate degree, citing the higher education title. David cited four other codes in support of this interpretation.

The Court of Appeals ruled the Legislature was free to enact a limit on education after high school but didn’t, so all expenses should be included. David pointed out the Legislature didn’t include graduate expenses. He also mentioned recent changes to the child support statutes mean the Legislature’s intent was to not include graduate school.

David wrote Indiana is one of the few states that have a statute providing for educational expenses once a child has reached the age of majority. Most states have no law requiring divorced parents provide college expenses, and of the states that do, the majority limit payment of the expenses to a certain age.

“We also note that married parents have no legal obligation to pay for their children’s educational expenses beyond high school, let alone graduate school expenses,” David wrote.

He ended by noting that divorced parents can still agree to pay a portion or all of their child’s graduate expenses, and that agreement can be enforceable by the court.

The case is David  P. Allen v. Kimberly W. Allen, 13S01-1601-DR-00053.

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