If you are planning to file for divorce in Michigan, or if you are in the process of getting divorced, you likely know already that the court will handle a number of financial issues tied to your marriage and divorce. More specifically, the court will divide property that it classifies as “marital property” in a manner that is equitable to both parties, and it may order that one of the parties pay spousal support to the other for a particular amount of time. If there are minor children from the marriage, the court will also determine the amount of each parent’s child support obligation according to the income shares model (MCL § 552.605). When the court orders child support, can it also order that one or both parents contribute to their child’s college expenses?
Some states can specifically require parents to contribute to college expenses, while others address enforcing divorce provisions that include the payment of college expenses. In Michigan, courts cannot order a parent to contribute to college expenses but can require a parent to uphold his or her agreement to pay college expenses when such an agreement has been made.
Child Support in Michigan Does Not Include College Expenses
The first thing to know is that child support in Michigan does not include college expenses. As such, during a divorce case, a Michigan court cannot order one or both parents to contribute to a child’s college expenses.
In a Michigan divorce, the Michigan Family Support Act (MCL § 552.452) expressly states that child support ordered during a divorce may include health care, child care, and education, as well as pregnancy-related medical costs. The statute clarifies that “education” does not include education at a college or university once the child turns 18 and graduates from college, but rather shall only include educational expenses up until the child’s 18th birthday, or when the child reaches 19 years and 6 months old if the child is still regularly attending high school full time.
To be clear, on its own, the court cannot order one or both parents to pay college expenses as part of a divorce settlement or case, or as part of a child support obligation when the parents get divorced. However, if the parents already have agreed that one or both of them will contribute to college expenses as part of their divorce settlement, the court may be able to enforce that agreement.
Courts can Enforce College Expenses Agreements in Divorce Cases
In a judgment of divorce in Gibson v. Gibson (1981), the spouses who were getting divorced agreed that the court could determine the amount of college expenses to be paid. When one parent tried to object, the Michigan Court of Appeals said that because the parties had come to an agreement about college expenses as part of their divorce, that agreement was enforceable. Similarly, in the Michigan case Top v. Silver, the court determined that the parents’ agreement to pay college expenses as part of their divorce case constituted a divorce property settlement that was enforceable.
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