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Legal Review: What Does Child Custody Have to Do with College Tuition?

By Tammy Begun of Capital Family Law Group

When one hears the term ‘college tuition,’ they may not automatically think of child custody. However, there is a story making news that has many linking one to the other. Federal authorities were put on notice last year that some wealthy parents in Illinois are giving up child custody to send their children to school. It is an extreme measure, but there is reasoning behind it.

When children apply to college, they often also apply for financial assistance at the same time. When applying for this assistance, which is typically state-funded, students must disclose their parents’ income. If their parents no longer have custody of the student, though, they are not required to disclose this information.

Financial aid officers will only take into consideration the student’s income, and not that of their parents or guardian. As such, dozens of students across the state have already gained assistance, even though their parents are affluent.

The story has made many angry across the state and country. After all, that assistance is meant to help students from low-income families. When children of parents that can afford to help with college costs do not, it takes away from those that really need it.

However, parents that relinquish custody are not breaking the law. Neither are those that assume custody of the children. The U.S. Department of Education stipulates that parents are under no obligation to contribute to their child’s education. Additionally, judges must sign off on any custody of a minor and can deny it when they do not feel it is just or in the child’s best interests. However, once a child turns 18 years old, or graduates from high school, whichever is later, there is no custody order that a court has jurisdiction over, unless the child is a disabled adult.

Sometimes, this strategy does work in favor of the child. For example, in one case wealthy parents were in the middle of a costly divorce. It would not be finalized at the time their child applied for financial assistance, meaning they would have to disclose their income. The divorce would be finalized though, by the time the child started school. The same money would not be available at that time that was a few months before the school year began. Therefore, having the student be independent could allow him or her to apply and receive financial aid.

The story has many in the state and around the country questioning what is right, and what is wrong. Parents who are wondering what the best move for them to make is should speak to a child custody lawyer who can help families understand what the best step is for them.

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