Adolescence in America is a long period that spans at least a decade, from about the age of 12 until graduation from college at the age of about 21 or 22. Though we’re legally adults at the age of 18, most parents still view their kids as kids during that time. They pay for them to go to college, help them buy books, pay for meal plans, and write their names in the back of each pair of underwear just like they did before Girl Scout camp at age ten. Okay, I hope the last one isn’t true. But who knows? The truth is, we stay kids longer in theUnited Statesthan in most other countries, where kids have to grow up and be responsible for themselves at a much younger age.
The law doesn’t recognize this extended period of adolescence. The law says that we come of age at eighteen, period. But the truth is that, for most college kids, they aren’t expected to be adults yet. Because they can’t have jobs and don’t support themselves, they still rely on their parents for most of the financial backing. Even if they do have a part-time job, it’s often a trivial one. After all, without an education and without a significant portion of time to devote to work, there aren’t a lot of well-paying jobs available out there. And, if the student doesn’t have a car, he or she is even more limited, and can probably only accept on-campus employment, which generally pays minimum wage.
There’s a definite disconnect in the law and in our general practice as a society. The law says at eighteen you’re an adult. As a result, child support stops at eighteen. But, in reality, the need for child support extends beyond the point at which the child legally reaches adulthood. For better or for worse, the way the system works it truly isn’t realistic to expect the child himself to provide enough support to pay for college on his own. Even if he works full-time, it’s probably not possible for the child to afford to pay for everything he needs: tuition, room and board, books, meal plan, car insurance, laptop, cell phone, gas, car insurance, or even extra spending money to buy beer…I mean, flash cards and highlighters. The list goes on and on.
Sure, there are some kids who turn eighteen, graduate, and get a job and immediately begin supporting themselves. But even those kids who don’t go to college have a hard time starting out at first. The job market is pretty grim and, without a college education, entry-level positions offering a true living wage are few and far between.
So, how do you get support for your child after he turns 18 and your husband is no longer legally required to pay support? It’s a million dollar question.
If your husband is a good-natured sort, you may be able to get him to agree to provide support during college. This may include a lot of things, including help with car insurance payments, providing the child with a cell phone, keeping him on the work-related health insurance, or just paying a portion of the tuition. If he’s quasi good-natured, he may just pay out of the goodness of his heart and sincere love for his child, even though he may not be willing to sign something that legally obligates him to provide that level of support.
If your husband is a jerk, there’s not a whole lot you can do. The law is clear on this point, and no judge has the authority to order him to pay support to help out while the child is in college. If the child is disabled (permanently disabled and unable to live alone and support himself), that’s a different story. But for the normal, run of the mill college student, or recent high school graduate, there is no such thing as child support after the age of 18 and, if you can’t get hubby to agree to pay extra, you’re in hot water.
You can’t make your husband pay. It’s a hard pill to swallow, because most moms want to support their children as they reach their higher education goals. If he’s not paying, and you can’t make him pay, you need to be realistic about what you can do, too. It’s not a good idea to help the kids so much that you’re completely strapped for cash. You’ve got to be realistic, do what you can, and otherwise help your kids to get special scholarships or, worst case scenario, loans for school.
We all want to provide for our children, give them more than we had ourselves, and make things just a little bit easier. It’s normal to feel this way. Still, you can only do so much, and you have to live within a budget, too. If you can’t do it all, you’re like most people. Send a care package at exam time, give them $30 for an extra tank of gas on the way back after Thanksgiving break, and don’t forget that a six back of beer can go a long way. It’s the little things.