Educational expenses in divorce include expenses associated with higher education. Pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-56c, an educational support order is defined as an order requiring a parent to provide support for a child or children to attend, for up to four full academic years, an institution of higher education or a private occupational school for the purpose of attaining a bachelor’s or other undergraduate degree, or other appropriate vocational instruction. Parties may request an “educational support order” either at the time of the divorce or at some point afterwards. If the Court does not enter an educational support order at the time of the divorce, however, the parties must specifically request that it retain jurisdiction over the matter, otherwise they will be precluded from seeking such an order at a later date.
Additionally, although C.G.S. §46b-56c defines “necessary educational expenses,” parties should cite the statute or define the phrase themselves if they enter into a separation agreement. Indeed, if they fail to do so, the meaning may be left open to interpretation. In Bollinger v. Feldman, Superior Court, Judicial District of Hartford, Docket No. FA020731923 (Nov. 18, 2010, Adelman, J.), the parties obtained a divorce by way of an agreement containing a provision titled “College Education of the Children.” When one of the children took a college-level summer course for credit (while still a high school student), the father refused to contribute toward the tuition fee, claiming that it did not fall within the meaning of “college expenses” as set forth in the parties’ agreement.
The Court noted that the parties did not reference C.G.S. §46b-56c in their agreement; rather they used the phrase “all college expenses.” However, the parties did not define the phrase, include qualifying language such as “reasonable and necessary,” or specify that such expenses would include only post-secondary education. On that basis the Court held that since the course was given at a college, and the child earned college credits for her work, the expense must be covered under the parties’ agreement. Given the vast array of expenses associated with sending a child to college, it is important to pay close attention to the language used in a separation agreement. Indeed, as the case above illustrates, if parties fail to do so, they could find themselves litigating an otherwise avoidable issue.
If you have questions regarding educational expenses in divorce, or any family law matter contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.