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College Expenses and Divorce

Going through a divorce is often a very emotional and overwhelming experience, often complicated by motions, discovery, court appearances and negotiations. By the end of the mandatory “cooling off” or pendente lite phase (Latin for “while the action is pending”), one may find himself or herself confused and eager to resolve the case. When considering the terms of a potential divorce settlement involving minor children, it is very important to keep future college expenses in mind. If overlooked, it may be very difficult or impossible to obtain contribution from a former spouse for books, tuition and/or living expenses should your child choose to attend college. There are various ways this issue can be addressed, and for a complete understanding, some fundamental information is useful.

Generally speaking, a divorce is typically resolved in one of two ways. The first is utilized when, despite efforts to come to a fair resolution, the parties are unable to agree on custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and/or the division of assets. When one or more of those aspects of the divorce remain in dispute, a trial will be necessary to obtain a final judgment. After hearing evidence and considering each party’s case, the Court will decide the terms of the divorce and enter orders accordingly. However, where parties are able to reach an agreement, the Court may rely on the terms of that agreement and enter orders in accordance therewith. Regardless of which avenue is taken, final court orders must ultimately be entered to formalize the dissolution of the marriage and define the terms of the divorce.

Though a divorce becomes “final” upon judgment, often orders require modification due to changes in circumstances which occur after the marriage is officially dissolved. Examples include modifying child support and/or alimony due to a change in one or both parties’ financial circumstances, or modifying custody or visitation due to changes in the characteristics of the parties’ home, work schedules or living conditions. Other times, it is necessary to add orders that simply were not ripe for adjudication at the time the divorce was obtained. Orders entered after a divorce becomes final are referred to as “post judgment” orders.

In Connecticut, educational support orders are governed by Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-56c. This statute authorizes the Courts to enter orders defining how the parties will handle their children’s “necessary educational expenses.” By statute, necessary educational expenses include room, board, dues, tuition, fees, registration and application costs up to the amount charged by the University of Connecticut for a full-time, in-state student at the time the child registers. That being said, parents can agree to increase the limit beyond the amount charged by the University of Connecticut if they choose. The educational support order may include the cost of books and medical insurance for the child as well. An educational support order is limited to four full academic years at an institution of higher education or a private occupational school for the purpose of obtaining a bachelors or other type of undergraduate degree, or vocational instruction.

Educational support may be handled at the time of the divorce or post judgment. When handled at the time of the divorce, the parties simply include in their separation agreement a provision outlining in detail how they will divide necessary educational expenses. As children are often young during the divorce and the parties’ circumstances at the time the child will be ready to attend college are unforeseeable, this issue is not always ripe for consideration at the time of the dissolution. In such cases, the parties may wish to defer the issue until the child is older. It is very important to note that if the parties choose to do so, they must include in their separation agreement a provision expressly requesting that the Court retain jurisdiction over this issue. If the parties fail to do so, the Court will not allow either party to request its involvement in the future.

Assuming the parties request that the Court retain jurisdiction over educational support, either may come back to Court at the appropriate time to request a post judgment educational support order. Once the post judgment action is commenced- as with the divorce itself- the parties may resolve the issue by agreement or request a hearing. Important to note is that whether the order is entered at the time of the divorce or post judgment, the Court must find that it is more likely than not the parents would have provided support to the child for higher education or private occupational school if the family remained intact. The parties may stipulate to this fact in an agreement. If a post judgment hearing is required, the Court will make that determination and by considering specific evidence including the parents’ income and assets, the reasonableness of the higher education considering the child’s academic record and financial resources available, as well as the child’s preparation for, aptitude for and commitment to higher education.

Attorney DeMeola in Maya Murphy’s Westport office. He welcomes inquiries and can be reached by telephone at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at mdemeola@mayalaw.com.
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Our family law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best divorce attorneys and family attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut divorce or New York divorce today.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce law attorney about a divorce or familial matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free divorce consultation as well as free consultation on all other familial matters. Divorce in CT and divorce in NYC is difficult, but education is power. Call our family law office in CT today.

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Courts Afford DCF Great Deference on Appeal

A recent decision rendered in a case involving the Department of Children and Families demonstrates the extent to which courts defer to the agency’s conclusions when reviewing a matter on appeal. In this particular case, the plaintiffs were the maternal aunt and uncle of two children, ages fourteen and sixteen. After receiving reports that the children were being physically and emotionally neglected, the Department conducted an investigation, ultimately substantiating the allegations as to both children. When the plaintiffs learned they were going to be placed on the Central Registry, they requested an administrative hearing.

The hearing officer found that DCF had received several prior reports for this family, ranging from allegations of physical abuse to emotional neglect. The hearing officer also found that on one occasion, the plaintiffs forced their nephew to sleep on dirty laundry, and on other occasions, locked him out of their home. At one point, the aunt and uncle stated the nephew was a financial obligation and they did not want him to return to their care. Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs agreed to transfer guardianship of the child to the paternal uncle.

The hearing officer upheld the allegations of physical neglect as to the nephew based on his finding that the child had been wrongfully denied access to his home. The hearing officer also upheld the substantiation of emotional abuse as to the nephew because of an incident in which the plaintiffs took the child’s backpack and school books from him, and because of several inappropriate statements the plaintiffs made about the child to third parties.

In explaining its limited role on appeal, the court stated that it may not retry the case or substitute its own judgment for that of the administrative agency with respect to the weight of the evidence or questions of fact. Rather, its duty is simply to determine, in view of all the evidence, whether the agency, in issuing its order, acted unreasonably, arbitrarily, illegally or in abuse of its discretion. The fact that a hearing officer discounted contrary evidence in the record does not affect the validity of the DCF decision. In reviewing the case on appeal, the Court must defer to the agency’s assessment of the credibility of the witnesses and to the agency’s right to believe or disbelieve the evidence presented by any witness, either in whole or in part.

In light of that standard, the court ultimately held that the testimony and documents produced at the hearing convinced the officer to uphold DCF’s determination. As the Court expounded, “The ‘book bag incident,’ the ‘sleeping on dirty clothes event,’ the plaintiffs’ insults of [the child] given at the hospital and probation office, and the barring from the house for both [children] were in the record.” Therefore, there was no basis to overturn the hearing officer’s decision.

Should you have any questions regarding DCF cases, or family matters generally, please do not hesitate to contact Michael D. DeMeola. He can be reached in the firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at mdemeola@mayalaw.com.
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Our family law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with divorce, matrimonial, and family law issues from all over the state including the towns of: Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best divorce attorneys and family attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut divorce or New York divorce today.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce law attorney about a divorce or familial matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free divorce consultation as well as free consultation on all other familial matters. Divorce in CT and divorce in NYC is difficult, but education is power. Call our family law office in CT today.

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Recent Decision Suggests Educational Support Orders May Not Be Applied Retroactively

A recent case decided by the Connecticut Appellate Court, suggests Educational Support orders entered pursuant to Connecticut General Statutes § 46b-56c may not be entered retroactively.  In Kleinman v. Chapnick, 131 Conn. App. 812 (2011), the parties had two children who were over the age of eighteen and enrolled as full-time college students.  During the divorce proceedings, the parties’ older daughter was a senior and their younger daughter was a freshman.  In February 2010, after the parties entered into a final agreement on custody and visitation, a two day trial ensued regarding financial issues.

As part of its decision, the Court ordered the husband to pay 100 percent of the statutory expenses for the education of the parties’ younger daughter beginning with the 2010-2011 school year.  As the Court did not enter an order with respect to the 2009-2010 school year, the wife filed a Motion to Clarify, Correct and/or Reargue.  The Court subsequently heard the wife’s motion, but declined to change its position.

On appeal, the Connecticut Appellate Court found that the husband made voluntary payments for the 2009-2010 school year that exceeded his statutory obligation under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46b-56c.  More importantly, however, the Court held that Section 46b-56c contains no language authorizing retroactive application, pointing out that various provisions contained within the statute suggest that it is intended to apply prospectively only.  In a footnote, the Court further explained that child support orders cannot be retroactive, and an order for post-majority educational support is in fact an order for child support for college education.

Should you have any questions regarding educational support in the context of divorce proceedings, please feel free to contact Attorney Michael D. DeMeola.  He practices out of the firm’s Westport office and can be reached by telephone at (203) 221-3100 or email at mdemeola@maylaw.com.