Another State Stops Child Support for College Students

May 01, 2010 | Child Support, Court Decisions, Legal Perspective

Icon for author Brian Vertz Brian Vertz

A decision issued two weeks ago makes South Carolina the latest state to overturn its laws granting child support to college students. In Webb v. Sowell (April 19, 2010), the South Carolina Supreme Court held that the law could not treat separated or divorced parents differently than married parents, who have no legal obligation to pay their children’s college tuition. Such laws, it held, violate the equal protection clause of the federal and state constitutions, and no rational basis exists for treating divorced or separated parents differently. This decision, from which two justices dissented, struck down more than thirty years of law in South Carolina.

Nearly twenty years ago, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reached a similar conclusion in Blue v. Blue, 432 Pa. 521, 616 A.2d 628 (1992). Interestingly, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had never touched the issue before Blue, even though trial and appellate courts had been awarding college support in Pennsylvania since 1963. South Carolina’s top court, on the other hand, had granted college support in 1979, reversing itself this year.

Legislative efforts in Pennsylvania following Blue resulted in a statute granting college support to the children of separated and divorced parents. The Pennsylvania Legislature made findings that the children of separated and divorced parents have special needs and circumstances which justify a different treatment than the children of intact families. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court disagreed, striking down the law in Curtis vs. Kline, 542 Pa. 249, 666 A.2d 265 (1995). The law remains on the books but has no legal effect due to the Curtis decision.

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