Prior to the fall of 2013, parents could be required by Alabama Courts to pay for post-minority support and college education expenses for children after they turned 19. That was under the ruling established in Ex Parte Bayliss.
But then, in October 2013, the Alabama Supreme Court handed down its decision in Ex Parte Christopher, which effectively overturned Bayliss. The court held parents could not be required to pay support to their children after they reached the age of majority. However, the court was clear on the fact that the Christopher ruling was not to be retroactively applied, meaning if parents were already paying college support for their children under court order, they had to continue to do so.
In Christopher, the court ruled that a high duty of care exists by an adult in a caregiving relationship with a child (i.e., parent, guardian, etc.). There exists the duty to supervise, rescue, control and support. There also exists the duty to ensure the child is educated. However, in applying the plain meaning of the term “children,” justices ruled this duty pertained solely to minors. Once children reached the age of adulthood, parents no longer owed such duty.
The more recent case of Ex Parte Jones , also before the Alabama Supreme Court, deals with whether the Christopher decision should be applied to cases that were pending when Christopher was decided. The Jones case had already been decided prior to Christopher, but the father was appealing and that appeal was pending.
According to court records in Jones, mother and father had two children and divorced in 1998. Some 12 years later, mother petitioned trial court to compel father to provide post-minority educational support for their son.
The trial court issued its ruling in April 2013, awarding post-minority educational support to the son. Father filed an appeal in September 2013. The court of civil appeals heard the case in April 2014. The court granted temporary jurisdiction of the case back to trial court to decide a percentage the father should pay. Trial court ruled he should pay 100 percent of his son’s college expenses, and that order was affirmed by the court of civil appeals in September 2014, though the decision was split.
The dissenting justice noted that while this case was making its way through the court system, the Alabama Supreme Court had issued its ruling in Christopher in October 2013. Because the court had expressly overruled Bayliss – and thus the whole basis on which father was compelled to pay – the justice ruled Christopher should be the standard applied because the Jones case was still pending at that time, and no final judgment had been entered.
Father then appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, which granted review to determine whether the court’s order conflicted with its decision in Christopher, or whether it was correct to apply the Bayliss standard. Ultimately, high court ruled the appellate court erred in applying Bayliss.
Thus, the earlier decision was reversed and the case remanded.
This is not to say parents can’t pay for their child’s higher education. Indeed, there are strong arguments for why they should, or at least help to cover the ballooning costs. However, our child support attorneys recognize the court should not order such payments to be made, once a child becomes an adult.
Ex Parte Jones , Feb. 27, 2015, Alabama Supreme Court
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