Monday, January 11, 2010

When Are Parents No Longer Financially Responsible for Their Children?

It could be as old as 23 in Virginia if a new bill passes.

Married parents don't have any legal obligation to pay for their adult children's college education or living expenses. But a bill just introduced in Virginia's legislature would require divorced parents to pay for such expenses.

HB 146 would extend child support beyond age 18 to age 23 when the "child" is attending college. Right now, child support in Virginia usually ends soon after the child reaches the age of majority.

Such provisions have been struck down in some courts and upheld in others. But such laws create an unfair burden for divorced parents that married parents do not have to bear.
As an intake lawyer for a non-profit law firm for over 6 years, I saw cases of aging divorced parents forced to pay the college bills of ungrateful offspring with whom they had an acrimonious relationship, even though they could ill-afford to do so – like a father dying of an incurable liver disease forced to pay his estranged daughter’s graduate school expenses, under a state law permitting child support to be awarded for adult children.

In my personal case, for example, such a law would require me to provide material support for one of my children but not for the others. Such a law creates an unfair advantage for children of divorce, rather than simply placing them on an equal footing.

The law should do what it can to protect children, providing those outside marriage with similar provisions as children within a marriage receive. But forcing parents to bear the financial burdens of their adult children is unfair.