Family Law

Noncustodial parents not responsible for college costs of adult children, court says

The Alabama Supreme Court has reversed a 1989 decision requiring noncustodial parents to help pay college expenses for their adult children.

The court, in a 6-2 decision (PDF) Friday, said the 1989 ruling failed to recognize the “ordinary and common-law definition” of a child as a minor, which the state legislature has defined as someone under the age of 19, reports.

The decision will not affect cases that are already final, but will apply to pending cases and cases that are on appeal.

The ruling stems from a 2010 case in which a divorced father asked a court to require his ex-wife to help pay college expenses for their son, who was about to turn 19. The trial court ordered the ex-wife to pay for 25 percent of the son’s college costs, a ruling which was later upheld on appeal.

But Friday’s decision sent the case back to the appeals court.

In the court’s majority opinion, Chief Justice Roy Moore said Alabama’s child custody law does not define the word “children,” leaving the courts to apply the plain or common-law definition of a child, which is a minor.

Moore said the 1989 decision requiring noncustodial parents to pay college expenses for their adult children was never approved by the legislature.

“In Alabama, legislation cannot originate with the judiciary,” he wrote.

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