The ABCs of College Expenses in North Carolina

First Things First. When Does Child Support End?

The age of majority in our state in age 18, and child support obligations generally end when a child reaches that age. There are several exceptions to that rule. Support ends when a child is emancipated (by marriage for example) before reaching age 18. If a child is 18 but has not yet graduated from school, support continues until the child graduates or ceases to attend school on a regular basis, fails to make satisfactory academic progress towards graduation, or reaches age 20, whichever comes first. The court does, however, have the ability to terminate support at age 18 before high school graduation if he or she deems it appropriate. See NC Gen. Stat. §50-13.4.

When Do College Expenses Begin?

They begin based only on parental agreements. Because child support obligations end at age 18 or graduation, the court has no ability to order continuing support (i.e., college expenses). However, while there is no legal obligation for either parent to pay these expenses, they are free to enter into an agreement to address them. The agreement is frequently a separation agreement, which the court will enforce. When parents obligate themselves to be responsible for college expenses, the obligation is not only enforceable against the other parent. The obligation is enforceable by the child against one or both parents in the event a parent fails to abide by the agreement.

Considerations For Parents Negotiating College Expenses

How are “college expenses” defined by the parents?

Do the expenses include tuition, housing, books, transportation, insurance, etc.?

Can the parents truly afford to pay for college?

Will each parent be required to contribute a specific dollar amount, to be supplemented by the student taking on loans or working while in school?

Are there restrictions on which university or college, usually related to either in-state rates in North Carolina or out-of-state rates?

Will the same rules apply to all of the children?

Will one parent pay or both share the cost?

If both pay, what percentage of expenses will each parent pay?

Should the parents contribute to a 529 College Savings Plan, or pay expenses directly?

Does the agreement require the child to meet standards, such as earning a minimum GPA or living at home while in school?

Are there limitations concerning anticipated degree programs, such as a two-year degree or four-year degree?


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