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Alabama's top court overturns decades-old family law precedent

Parents who are thinking about college tuition know that it's a major financial burden, and it's only expected to become more significant as time passes. The idea of providing children with financial support for tuition may seem even more uncertain when parents are filing for divorce.

Alabama parents who are considering a request for educational support during divorce may be interested in a recent court decision that could alter their plans. Turning over a precedent set in 1989, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that family law judges cannot order parents to make educational support payments for children over the age of 19.

Unlike most states, the age of majority is 19 in Alabama. Customarily, child support payments made to the custodial parents would end when children reach this age. However, under the old legal precedent, judges had the authority to order parents to contribute to college tuition for as long as children were in college.

One thing made clear by the court's decision is that support orders that are already in place will not be affected. However, future divorce cases -- or those currently pending -- will be impacted by the major decision.

Educational support is just one consideration to be made during child support negotiations. This could still include tuition for minor children, since the ruling pertains to those who have reached the legal age of majority.

At the same time, parents may still be able to reach educational support agreements outside of court, if that's what they wish to do. This ruling specifically looked at state child support laws and what judges would have the authority to mandate. As such, it may be helpful for parents to discuss their legal options before moving forward with divorce.

Source: The Montgomery Advertiser, "Alabama Supreme Court issues major divorce ruling," Oct. 4, 2013

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