Age Limits for Post-Secondary Education Subsidy

Today’s sole family law opinion from the Iowa Supreme Court is In re Marriage of Neff, which defines the age limit for children eligible for the “post-secondary education subsidy” (i.e., college support). According to the decision, a student must be “older than 17” and “younger than 23” to be eligible for college support under Iowa law.

The case also addresses some related college support issues, such as status of “PLUS” loans and the importance of filing court action immediately upon learning that the other parent is not contributing to the college expenses of the child.

College Support/Subsidy and Pre-1997 Decrees

Today’s decision of In re Marriage of Mullen-Funderburk lays out the procedure for determining post-secondary tuition subsidy (a/k/a “college support”) in decrees that pre-date the 1997 college support amendment to Chapter 598:

“Where the amount of post-secondary child support is not fixed by a pre-1997 dissolution decree, “those [post-secondary support] obligations, if they arise, should be determined pursuant to Iowa Code section 598.21(5A).” In re Marriage of Rosenfeld, 668 N.W.2d 840, 849 (Iowa 2003). The district court had no discretion to order Marilyn to pay child support for a non-disabled adult child outside the strictures of section 598.21(5A).”

The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the district court’s order that the appellant pay $745/month directly to the student-child, as this amount exceeded the one-third cap that a parent can be obligated to pay under existing section 598.21(5A). Determination of the proper amount was remanded to the district court.

College Support: Sorority/Fraternity Fees & Spending Money

The Iowa Supreme Court issued yet another post-secondary education subsidy (college support) case, In re Marriage of Goodman. Although the impact of the decision may be arguably be tempered by the “unique facts” of the case, the decision does seem to expand the type of expenses that may be included in a post-secondary college subsidy. Unfortunately, the decision provides little additional clear guidance on a subject that for some reason has spawned a considerable amount of family law litigation in Iowa. In Goodman, the parties agreed on how to share college expenses for an older child, but could not agree for a younger sibling. It is unclear from the decision whether the Court based its decision upon the parties’ agreement for the younger child or whether sorority/fraternity fees and cash allowances are in fact “necessary” under the statute alone.

The Court did issue a clear opinion that child support terminates immediately upon graduation from high school even if the child is enrolled to begin a post-secondary educational program in the next semester.

Finally, the Court issued an unequivocal statement that, “By putting child support at issue, the parties put child medical support at issue.” Therefore, Iowa district courts have authority to modify medical support provisions of a decree whenever child support is modified even if not specifically requested by either party in their pleadings.

Goodman II – Yet Another College Support Decision

In a second trip to the appellate level, the Iowa Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling in In re Marriage of Goodman concerning allocation of post-secondary education expenses and declined a party’s &;invitation to sua sponte review&; of a prior Iowa Supreme Court decision involving the same issue and the same parties. In re Marriage of Goodman was first considered by the Iowa Supreme Court in 2004. In re Marriage of Goodman, 690 N.W.2d 279 (Iowa 2004). In that decision, the court rejected the parent’s claim that all three children’s college expenses should be treated equally. In today’s Court of Appeals decision, the court again rejected a parent’s claim that each parent should pay 1/2 of a child’s college expenses under the prior agreement that was rejected in Goodman I.

Of some interest is the court’s comment at Footnote 2 rejecting a &;best interests&; exception to the statutory 1/3 cost-sharing limitation. The decision limits the &;best interests&; analysis solely &;within the context of whether a conditional postsecondary education subsidy stipulation should be enforced&; per the decision of In re Marriage of Rosenfeld, 668 N.W.2d 840, 848 (Iowa 2003).