August 4, 2010
By Bob Coleman
Coleman, Chambers, Rogers & Williams, LLP
I am recently divorced, and the final verdict and decree says that I need to pay child support until my children complete their secondary education. What does "secondary education" mean?
While the Georgia statutes on child support do not explicitly define what "secondary education" means, the courts have interpreted it as a high school education. Generally:
•- Primary Education = Elementary School
•- Intermediate Education = Middle School
•- Secondary Education = High School
How does this definition of secondary education affect my child support obligations?
The Official Code of Georgia Annotated §19-6-15 (e) states that the obligation of child support generally only exists until the child reaches the age of majority, dies, marries or becomes emancipated. However, the statute also includes an exception where a parent may be required to support a child who has not yet reached the age of twenty, if the child is enrolled in and attending a secondary school, and the child has not married or been emancipated.
Why does the exception in O.C.G.A §19-6-15 (e) exist?
The Georgia legislature enacted this statute to prevent situations where support would stop while the child is still in high school. For example, if a child was held back in school for one reason or another, including health problems or having difficulties with the material, this would ensure support payments until graduation but not past age 20. This statute also ensures that children who turn 18 during their senior year of high school are still supported until they graduate.
Does this mean I affirmatively do not have to pay child support once the child turns eighteen and graduates from high school?
Not necessarily. The law does not prevent the two parties from voluntarily agreeing to pay for college expenses as part of the final judgment and decree. If a party agrees to pay for college expenses as part of the final decree, then that party may be held in contempt for violating the provision by failing to follow the order. For example, if both parents agree to each bear one-half of the cost associated with college expenses, then both parents could be held in contempt, if they each fail to fulfill their respective obligations.
However, it should be noted that such agreements will only be enforced where a party's intent to create an obligation is specific, and therefore, the court may not imply such an obligation on a party where there is no such specific intent. In the end, your specific obligations in regards to college expenses will depend on the specific provisions in the final decree.