Can a court order a parent to pay for college in a Michigan divorce?

Markus Moos a University of Waterloo Professor conducted research published in Forbes magazine that millennials are earning less than their parents.  One way to curb this trend is to ensure that children attend college, which begs the question:  Can a court order a parent to pay for college in a Michigan divorce?


Child support in Michigan is governed by the Family Support Act of 1966 (Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL 552.451-552.459) and the Friend of the Court Act (MCL 552.519).

Child support and educational expenses

The obligation to pay for education expenses is provided in MCL 552.452(1) of the Family Support Act.   Paragraph (1) provides that support may include expenses of:

  • “. . . medical, dental, and other health care, child care, and education, necessary medical expenses incurred in connection with the mother’s pregnancy or the birth of the child, and the expense of genetic testing.”

The same statute further provides that the obligation to provide child support ends when a child reaches the age of 18:

  • “The order shall state in separate paragraphs the amount of support for the petitioner until the further order of the court, and the amount of support for each child until each child reaches 18 years of age or until the further order of the court.”

Therefore, it would appear that the answer to the question who pays for college in a Michigan divorce is that there is no obligation to support a child after the age of 18.

However, there are certain circumstances where the obligation to pay child support can extend beyond a child’s 18th birthday.  These circumstances are set forth in MCL 552.605b which provides that a court may order child support after the child reaches the age of 18 if:

  • The child is regularly attending high school on a full-time basis but in no case after the child reaches 19 years and 6 months.

To add an exclamation point to the conclusion that there is no legal authority for a court to order a parent to pay for college in a Michigan divorce, we look to MCL 552.17a which defines the jurisdiction of a court in a Michigan divorce.  The statute providing that a court has jurisdiction relative to the minor children until each child has attained the age of 18 and jurisdiction regarding child support consistent with the MCL 552.605b.

Agreements to pay for college in a Michigan divorce

Just because a court cannot order a parent to contribute pay for college in a Michigan does not mean you cannot agree to do so.  However, if an agreement is made to pay for college in a Michigan divorce, it will be enforced.

In Gibson v. Gibson,110, Mich. App 666 (1981), the parties reached an agreement in their Judgment of Divorce to allow the trial court the right to determine the amount to be paid for college expenses.  The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the agreement over the objection of one parent (and even the trial judge who thought children should pay their own way through school).

In Oviatt v. Oviatt, 43 Mich. App. 628 (1972), the Michigan Court of Appeals were faced with the authority of a trial judge to hold a party in contempt of court for failing to pay for college expenses the parties agreed upon in their divorce settlement.  The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the agreement and determined since the agreement was entered during the minority of the child it was enforceable in contempt proceedings.

In Top v. Silver, Michigan Court of Appeals Docket No. 250275 (unpublished), the an unpublished opinion entitled Top v. Silver (Docket No. 250275) the parties divorce judgment included an agreement for the husband to provide four years of college tuition for each of the parties children provided they maintained at least 2.0 grade point average at a nationally accredited college or university.  The wife filed a motion to enforce and the husband filed a motion to modify the agreement.  The trial court determined that the agreement was child support and modified the agreement as to future college expenses. The husband appealed (apparently not wanting to pay anything) and the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the modification.

Note:  It may be possible to structure an agreement to pay for college as a property settlement and therefore non-modifiable.

Can a court order a parent to pay for college in a Michigan divorce?

The answer is only if you agree to do so.

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Findling Law, PLC – 414 W. 5th St. Royal Oak, Michigan 48067

Phone:+1 (248) 399-3300
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I have been exclusively practicing divorce and family law in Michigan for over two decades.  The attorneys at Findling Law all share the core value of practicing law to help people navigate change in their lives, without compromising principles.  We specialize in high socio-economic, high-profile and high-conflict cases, while also working with clients of all backgrounds. We recognize that the most important aspect of the practice of law is the application of the law to your specific circumstances.That is why we provide more free information on divorce and family law than any other Michigan law firm. We want to help you manage your situation. Allow our exceptional legal team to help you navigate the change in your life, without compromising principles.

By:  Daniel Findling

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