“My divorce decree from the state of Rhode Island clearly states that child support shall continue past the age of 18 if the child goes to a full time accredited college. Both myself and my ex husband signed off on this agreement 17 1/2 years ago. My daughter is going to be 18 in December of 2006 but will be enrolled as a full time student at an accredited college. My ex husband has since moved to another state and faithfully pays his child support. My question is, can he stop paying the ordered child support at the age of 18 even though our agreement states he must continue the support payments while the child is in college or reaches the age of 21? What do I need to do to be sure I get continued support while my daughter attends college?”
The short answer is that your agreement for support of a child beyond the age of majority is likely enforceable. Both of you were free to negotiate your divorce decree. Though there generally is no duty to support a child into majority (except an incapacitated child) you and your ex likely had the capacity to make this agreement, and it should be valid. It may be enforceable both as a support order, and as a contract, with your daughter as the third party beneficiary to that contract.
I practice in California. California Family Code section 3587 states: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the court has the authority to approve a stipulated agreement by the parents to pay for the support of an adult child or for the continuation of child support after a child attains the age of 18 years and to make a support order to effectuate the agreement.” If there is similar case law or statutory law like this in Rhode Island, then a Rhode Island family law attorney should be able to point you to that. There is both statutory and case law in California to continue support of a child that has reached majority based on the agreement of the parents.
How can you ensure support continues may depend on the orders in your case and how you are receiving support? If you are getting support via wage assignment, and the language of the decree is clear about support termination, then a letter to his company with the proof of enrollment can put the pressure on them to continue the wage assignment. If your husband has been voluntarily paying, and he stops voluntary payments in 12/2006, you may have to go back to Court for enforcement of your decree. The best and first thing to try would be to remind him of the agreement, let him know about the intention for college and make sure that he and his daughter have easy enough access to each other that there will be no surprises. Since she is an adult, perhaps shifting the payments directly to her from him might make the whole thing go easier.