I am often asked if my client can get his/her opposing spouse to pay for college. The short answer is: NO, unless the other spouse agrees to pay child support past the age of 18 and reduces that agreement to writing.
Once your child turns 18 and graduates high school, he or she is no longer a child in the eyes of the law in Maryland. While it may be scary to think that your child is actually an adult, the fact of the matter is that they now have the legal right to govern their own life. So what does that mean for you?
Child Support – The legal obligation to support your child ends at the graduation from high school or age 19, whichever comes first. While many parents will continue to support their children in other ways (e.g., help with college tuition, pay their rent, car note, etc.), the obligation to pay the other parent child support in Maryland ends when a child turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever is later. If you are paying directly to the other parent, you can stop. If your wages are being garnished, you need to work a little more closely with the employer and the office of child support enforcement to ensure that it does not continue. If parents entered into a written agreement to continue support after 18, then the child support does not end at 18 under that contract.
Health Insurance – If a parent’s health insurance plan covers dependents, then a child can usually remain on his or her parent’s policy until the age of 26. This applies even if the child gets married, has a child, files his or her own taxes, live outside of the parent’s home.
Taxes – Your dependent child must file a tax return if their income requires them to do so. You can still claim a child as a dependent if they either reside with you for at least half of the year, do not provide for more than half of their own financial support and are under the age of 19 during the tax year, or are under the age of 24 for full-time students. The IRS treats your child differently depending on whether he or she earns money from work or through investments. If the child (in 2017) earned more than $6,350 of income, then the child must file a personal income tax return.
Medical Records – Once your son or daughter turns 18, he or she is free to make medical decisions on his or her own. You don’t get to know what those records say. The parents are no longer part of the decision-making process of medical issues and may not obtain medical records without the now-adult’s consent. Consider discussing with your child about adding your name to his or her medical doctor authorization form so that the doctor can release information to you in compliance with HIPAA.
Academic Records – Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a parent has certain protections and rights when it comes to access to their child’s academic and educational records. However, once a child turns 18, that right transfers from the parent to the child. So, even if you are paying for the child’s college tuition, you may be restricted in obtaining educational records (e.g., transcript) directly from the college or university. In some circumstances, however, a school may share some information about the student’s education record (e.g., the student is claimed as a dependent for tax purposes, if the student’s health or safety is at issue or if the student has violated any laws or policy regarding alcohol or controlled substances).
If it is not obvious to you, once your son or daughter turns 18, you lose a lot of access as a parent when it comes to the child’s life. Have an open dialogue before your child’s 18th birthday to set reasonable expectations about how you will support them (financially or otherwise) and how it is important to remain involved when it comes to important matters will help them as they become adults.