Effective July 1, 2012, the age of emancipation of children in paternity and divorce cases was rolled back from age 21 to 19. This change brings Indiana in line with most other states, but it also raises questions that have yet to be answered. Simply put, the obligation to provide support for adult children stops when the adult child reaches age 19. This change in the law is retrospective, applying to all prior cases where children are receiving support. However, the new law does not change in any way the obligation to provide educational support for children who are attending college. Moreover, the law provides that for children, 19 years of age or older, who are the subject of support orders prior to July 1, 2012, they may apply for educational support up to age 21; but children younger than age 19 who begin receiving support after July 1, 2012, must apply for educational support before reaching age 19.
While the obligation for college expenses may continue after the age of 19, what constitutes college expenses is still somewhat controversial. The easy case is where the college student lives away from home, on campus. But what of the student who lives at home and attends classes? Can there be levied a “room and board” in lieu of a support obligation? There is case law that allows for this, but the Indiana Supreme Court has not yet addressed this issue.
Similarly, can the payment of reasonable and necessary medical and related expenses be included in an educational support order, in the absence of a legal duty to support children? The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) allows adult children to be covered under their parents’ health insurance policy until age 26. It is not clear that parents can be compelled to keep their children covered beyond age 19 under the new support statute. The court might be persuaded to extend coverage under the educational support statute, but perhaps not any longer than graduation, even if there is eligibility until age 26. Further, if parents can drop coverage on their adult child before age 26, will the adult child be required to obtain insurance or pay the penalty provided under the Affordable Care Act? It appears at this time that Obamacare would require this. The current Indiana Child Support Guidelines considers the cost of providing insurance as a deciding factor on whether a parent can be ordered to provide it for the child. If the court finds that the cost is not reasonable, the parent should not be ordered to pay it. Practically, it may be unusual to have parents contributing to college expenses, yet have the cost of insurance to be unreasonable relative to the parents’ incomes. But such a result can happen, and whether an “unreasonable” insurance cost can be rolled up into an educational expense order is undetermined.
Under the prior statute which established emancipation at age 21, there was a significant overlap in the time periods for the payment of support under the support statute and educational expense statute. The obligation to support the adult child continued in many cases through sophomore and junior years of college, while educational expenses were an additional obligation. But the new support statute pretty much eliminates the overlap, and the continuation of the payment of expenses beyond age 19 can only be supported by the educational expense statute. This means that we may have to think about educational expenses in a more critical, and perhaps, expansive way than in the past. This is particularly so with respect to providing continuing health care coverage for the adult child attending college.