To Pay or Not to Pay? Are Parents Responsible for Their Adult Child’s College Expenses?

April 4, 2019

With all of the world waiting to hear the legal outcomes for Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin surrounding each of their respective college admissions scams, which include cheating on college exams and bribing officials to purchase class slots in well-known universities, it is important to remember that no parent, “A-lister” or otherwise, has a legal obligation to pay support or the expenses of a higher education for their child in Pennsylvania.

Surrounding financial responsibilities toward a college-bound child, the landmark case of Blue v. Blue held that no Pennsylvania parent can be held legally responsible for the post-secondary school expenses of his/her child, unless the parent contractually obligated himself/herself to pay for the same.  Thus, there is no Pennsylvania statute imposing a financial duty upon a parent to satisfy their child’s post-secondary school expenses, including but not limited to, tuition, room and board fees, extracurricular activity expenses, and/or fraternity or sorority fees.  The type of contract where this obligation is most often set forth is a Marital Settlement Agreement.  If such a provision exists, the court will uphold and enforce such post-secondary school expense obligations, whether or not there is case law to support such.

In Pennsylvania, parents are generally only liable for the support of their children until they become emancipated and reach the age of eighteen.  In most circumstances, emancipation is equivalent to a child graduating from high school.  Thus, whichever of these two listed events occurs last triggers the termination of a parent’s responsibility to financially support his/her child.  For example, if the child turns eighteen in March, but graduates from high school in June, the triggering emancipation factor which severs the parent’s financial obligation to his/her child would be graduating from high school, not turning 18 years of age.  Conversely, if the child graduates in June, but does not turn eighteen until August, the triggering emancipation factor which severs the parent’s financial obligation to his/her child would be the child turning 18 years of age, not graduating from high school.  Regardless of whether a child obtains gainful employment after high school or enrolls in a course of higher education, when he/she successfully graduates from high school and reaches the age of eighteen, a parent’s legal financial responsibility toward that child terminates, forever.

Even if you are not faced with a decision like Lori Loughlin as to whether or not to pay $500,000.00 to secure a class seat for your emancipated eighteen-year-old child, it is important to remember that you should always speak with a lawyer before signing any type of document that would obligate you to pay post-secondary school expenses for your child.