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Can A Spouse Be Ordered To Support A Child After The Child Turns 18?

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A Texas appellate court recently ruled in Bartlett v. Bartlett, No. 14-14-00058-CV (Tex.App.-Houston [14th Dist.] Apr. 30, 2015) that a spouse could be ordered to support a child even after the child turns 18 and graduates from high school.

When William and Lori divorced in 2000, they included provisions in their divorce decree for William to pay their children’s college expenses, including tuition, room and board, and books. Their son started college in August 2012. William refused to reimburse Lori for the college expenses and Lori sued him for breach of contract. At trial, the court agreed that William had breached the terms of the decree and signed a judgment requiring William to reimburse Lori. William appealed.

In Texas, a spouse normally cannot be ordered to pay child support after the child has turned 18 and graduated from high school. On appeal, William made various arguments that the provision requiring him to pay for the child’s college expenses was not enforceable because the child had graduated high school and was over the age of 18. The Court of Appeals disagreed. The Court of Appeals stated the provision in the decree was not child support at all. The term “child support” has a very specific meaning under the Texas Family Code. It is a term of art. The college expenses provision did not fall under the statutory definition of child support. Instead, the college expenses provision was part of the division of the marital estate. Although the college expenses provision is not child support, it is an enforceable contract provision under Texas law and subject to all available remedies under Texas in a breach of contract suit.

If you are contemplating divorced, it is very important for you to obtain qualified legal advice to guide you through the process. If you do not have adequate representation you could inadvertently agree to something which could have substantial legal and financial consequences down the road. An experienced family attorney will be able to protect your rights whether you are receiving or paying child support or whether the issues involves Texas child support or contract laws.

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