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Child support: Who pays for college?

In Virginia, both parents are responsible for supporting their children financially. That is why non-custodial parents often must pay child support for any minor children they have.

Most parents do not mind supporting their children, but as their children age many start to wonder: will they have to pay child support through college as well?

Usually, child support ends when children become adults

On average, 69% of high school seniors across the nation attend colleges and universities after graduating each year. Since many jobs require individuals to have a college education, obtaining higher education has become the norm for many students.

Most of the time, when children reach 18, they have reached “the age of majority” and are considered a legal adult. Therefore, many parents who pay child support determine that they no longer have an obligation to pay – even for college.

This is true in most cases, but not always.

When must parents continue paying child support?

There are a few specific circumstances where child support does not terminate automatically when children turn 18. Under Virginia law, parents may have to continue paying child support beyond age 18 if:

  • The child remains a full-time high school student;
  • They cannot support themselves;
  • They continue living with the custodial parent receiving support payments; or
  • They have a severe mental or physical disability and require support.

A child’s college education is not on this list. Virginia law does not state that parents have a responsibility to pay for a child’s college tuition. Therefore, the family court cannot order parents to pay for their child’s college education.

However, that could change with a written agreement. The non-custodial parent could be responsible to help pay for a child’s college tuition only if both parents establish a written agreement stating as much. This could be a provision in the original child support agreement, or a separate agreement parents enter later, closer to when the child will go to college.

Parents should carefully consider their financial obligations – and capacity – if they choose to establish such an agreement and support their child through college. It is often helpful to consult an experienced family law attorney, so parents can understand how they can protect their rights and their child's future.

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