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Child support – College issues and IRS questions

Dear Carolyn,

My daughter just graduated from high school, and she is college bound.  Her father and I divorced three years ago.  Her father paid child support, but I understand child support is ending now as she is already 18.  I thought her father would surely pay (or at least help) with college, and he told me last night that he was not helping with college.  What can I do?  Our divorce agreement says NOTHING about college.

~ College Help Needed

Dear College Help Needed,

This is a most difficult situation for you and for your daughter.  Unfortunately, in this State, parents have no legal obligation for support after the child is 18 and out of high school.  Other States are different.  For example, in Alabama, the divorce court can order college if the child’s lifestyle and economic status would indicate that the parent would have paid for college in an intact family.  Also, in Massachusetts, as another example, child support continues to age 21.

The only way a parent can be bound to pay for college is in a private agreement.  At the time of your divorce settlement, the father and you could have entered into a private agreement, signed and notarized, that describes how the child’s college costs will be handled.  If you had such an agreement, the agreement would be enforceable by you.  Frequently, college is difficult to negotiate because Father’s feel that the child will “snub her nose” at the father if college is guaranteed by a contract.  You do not say anything about the daughter’s relationship with the father, and whether it is a close, loving relationship.

If the child’s financial aid application requires the father’s income, sometimes it is helpful to have a letter to accompany the financial aid application stating that the father will not participate in college expenses.  I have written several letters like this in the past for clients who have no expectation from a parent of college participation.

Good luck with college for your daughter, and congratulations on her high school graduation.


Dear Carolyn,

 My ex and I share custody of our two children, and I pay child support to her. I have every other weekend, half the holidays, and two weeks in the summer.  My ex doesn’t work, but her new husband does.  I pay all the money for the two kids.  Can I get the dependency exemptions for the two children for 2013?  I really need these deductions for my kids, and I pay—NOT HER.


Carolyn Answers:

 I feel for you, as the dependency exemption is worth $3900 per child for 2013.   However, you cannot get the dependency exemptions for the two children under the facts you describe, unless your ex will sign an IRS Form 8332 giving you the dependency exemptions.  The IRS is very, very strict about this.

Under the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines, you do not have the amount of nights needed for the court to award you the dependency exemption under the Guidelines.

Under the Internal Revenue Code, the parent with the most over nights gets the dependency exemption of minor children.

At your next child support review, typically every three years, ask for a deviation from the North Carolina Child Support Guidelines and ask for an order from the court ordering your ex to give you the From 8332 to transfer the dependency exemptions to you. That is your best solution, if your ex will not simply sign the Form 8332.


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This blog is revised from a previous Ask Carolyn in The Rhino Times.