In Massachusetts, the short answer to the question above is probably–but not necessarily. Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 208, Section 28, parents have an ongoing duty to support a child who is at least 18 but not yet 21, if the child maintains a legal domicile with a parent and is principally dependent upon that parent for support. Even after a child turns 21, if the child has a legal domicile with a parent, remains principally dependent upon a parent for support, and is enrolled in an educational program, a parent may be ordered to pay support until the age of 23. Of note, an educational program does not include graduate work.
This may seem counter-intuitive, given that the child is no longer physically present in the home of the custodial parent once he or she heads off to college. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has decided, however, that a child is still in need of support while away at college, and a custodial parent still requires support in order to maintain a home for the child to return during school breaks, as well as provide the support that a child of this age may require.
To break this down a bit further, a child can be “primarily domiciled” with a parent even if a child is living on campus away from home during the school year and possibly even in the summer. In Massachusetts, “domicile” is similar to a person’s legal residence and is defined by a number of factors including but not limited to, driver’s license address, address on tax returns, address for purpose of voter registration, location of legal mailing address, and where he or she intends to return while school is not in session or while on breaks. So, even if your child is not living with a custodial parent for the majority of the time while he or she is in college, domicile for purposes of child support most likely will be with the parent who had primary physical custody when the child left for college.
In determining whether a child is principally dependent on a parent with whom the child maintains a legal domicile, the court looks to economic as well as non-economic support. Support is defined not only in terms of direct financial support, but also in less concrete terms, such as emotional support, assistance with decision making, and a parent’s involvement with the child’s well-being.
While it is true that the custodial parent may still be entitled to child support, the amount of support may be amended based on each parent’s contribution to college costs. Courts can order parents to contribute towards college costs as well as modify the amount of child support if a parent is contributing towards college costs. Court’s also have more discretion as to the amount of support once the children have reached the age of 18, so making equitable and “fairness” arguments become more effective. The new child support guidelines promulgated August 1, 2013 now require that a judge take into consideration each parent’s contributions and ability to contribute to college costs when making an award of child support. So, while a parent may be required to continue to pay child support for their college-aged child, it may be worthwhile for the non-custodial parent to seek a modification as to the amount of child support the parent is required to pay if the parent is contributing a significant amount to a child’s college education and expenses.
If you are paying child support for a child who has gone off the college, and the child is either not domiciled with the recipient of the support or not getting the same level of emotional or financial support from that parent, or if you’re contributing to college expenses, you may have a good case to modify child support or eliminate it altogether. To get a sense of your legal rights, I recommend you speak with an experienced divorce lawyer. To schedule a free consultation today, during which we’d do a free initial assessment of your child support case, call 978-225-9030 during regular business hours. Or, complete and submit the contact form found here and we’ll contact you back at our earliest opportunity.