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Maryland may force divorced parents support college students

Yes, many parents continue to flip the bill for many of their children's college expenses, but should it be mandatory? Interestingly enough, a bill before the Maryland legislature will require divorced parents to continue to pay child support while their children are in college. This bill leads many to ask, when should a parent no longer be required to legally financially support their child?

Maryland House Bill 986 says children older than 18 years of age have the right to ask for child support from both parents, if they are enrolled in college or other postsecondary education institutions. If the bill passes as it is written, the support would terminate when the child turns 21, marries, graduates or dies.

Critics say the bill discriminates against divorced parents. Parents who are still married do not have a legal obligation to support their adult children or pay their college costs.

If a child chooses to take college courses that a parent does not approve of, married parents have the right to tell their child they will not provide financial support for them. If House Bill 986 passes, critics fear divorced parents will lose that right.

In addition to potentially forcing parents to support adult children who do not treat them with respect, opponents of the bill fear that it will have other unintended negative impacts.

For example, if non-custodial parents end up handing payments over to their ex-spouse, the former spouse then has the opportunity to misuse the funds. If that happens, the child may actually have less of an opportunity to get a college education.

Another fear is that judges will force aging parents to foot their child's college bills, even though they may not be able to afford to do so.

In 2010, legislators in the neighboring state of Virginia proposed a similar bill. That bill was shot down after numerous constituents vocally opposed it. The Virginia bill also drew the wrath of several prominent commentators.

Several other states have similar laws in place. So far, the U.S. Supreme Court has not weighed in on whether the laws are constitutional.

Source: OpenMarket.org, "Maryland Weighs Discriminatory College Child Support Mandate," Hans Bader, Feb. 14, 2012

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