Continuing Texas Child Support While Child Pursues High School Diploma

A Texas court may order child support beyond a child’s 18th birthday if the child is still in high school, whether a public school, a private school, or course that provide joint high school and junior college credits.  The child must comply with the minimum attendance requirements in the Education Code or the private school’s minimum attendance requirements.  Tex. Fam. Code. Ann. § 154.002.  A mother challenged the termination of child support for her son after his 18th birthday in a recent Texas custody case.

The divorce decree ordered the father to pay monthly child support until one of the listed events occurred.  Child support would continue if he was in compliance with the requirements in Tex. Fam. Code. Ann. § 154.002.

The father petitioned to terminate child support in September 2018, following the son’s 18th birthday in April.  The mother claimed the son was enrolled in an accredited secondary school.  She then filed a petition for continuation and increase of child support and alleged her son was enrolled full-time in a private secondary school.

The father testified the son was attending Woodlands High School (“Woodlands”) when he turned 18 but was not in compliance with the attendance requirements. The son did not graduate.  The father stated he got an email from Woodlands stating his son was not enrolled for the next year and was told his son would be attending online school. The father provided a record from the online school indicating the son was “not participating in the program.”

The mother testified the son was never dis-enrolled from Woodlands but he “begged” her not to send him back.  She testified she enrolled him in an online school in August 2018.  The mother testified the online school only assigned one class at a time.

The father provided a transcript from Woodlands that showed the son had not earned any grade 12 credits for the 2017-2018 school year.  The 12th grade school record for the 2018 school year, showed a withdrawal date of August 15, 2018 and indicated “Homeschool.”

The online school’s catalog showed it allowed students to access one course at a time.  It also indicated students worked at their own pace.  The Enrollment Agreement for the online school showed August 15, 2018 as the enrollment date.  The mother also presented documentation showing the son had completed Introduction to High School Parts 1 and 2, and that he started Pre-Algebra: Part 1 on February 11, 2019.  The Progress Reports showed his pace was “BELOW TARGET” and he had not passed any learning objectives or submitted assignments for the Pre-Algebra class.

The trial court terminated child support as of June 1, 2018 and the mother appealed.  She argued the trial court erred in terminating child support because the son was enrolled in an accredited secondary school and a program leading to a high school diploma when he turned 18.

The appeals court noted that a student must attend at least 90% of the days a class is offered to receive credit.  Tex. Educ. Code Ann. § 25.092.  The son did not receive any credits at Woodlands for the 2017-2018 school year.  His attendance records showed 34 unexcused absences.  The father testified the son was not in compliance with the attendance requirements when he turned 18.    The appeals court found it would not be an abuse of discretion for the trial court to conclude the son was not complying with the minimum attendance requirements at the time of his birthday.

The mother also argued the son was enrolled in an online school.  The appeals court found, however, that the trial court could have concluded the son was not making progress toward the diploma when the record showed he had not received any credits, completed any learning objectives, or submitted any assignments.

The mother also argued the trial court erred in denying her petition to modify the child support obligation because the evidence showed the son had a disability that affected his ability to attend a mainstream school. A court may order child support for an indefinite period if it finds the child requires substantial care and personal supervision due to a disability and will not be capable of supporting himself, and the disability exists or its cause is known to exist at the time of the child’s 18th birthday.  Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 154.302.

The father argued there was no evidence the son required substantial care and supervision and was not capable of supporting himself.  The mother testified the son had worked up to 30 hours per week.  The father also pointed out the son’s 504 Plan allowed extra time to finish assignments, but did not provide the son with additional time to graduate.

The appeals court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial of the mother’s petition.  The court could have reasonably concluded the evidence did not show the son needed substantial care and personal supervision because of a disability and was not capable of self-support.

The appeals court affirmed the trial court’s order.

This case shows that enrollment in a program for a high school diploma may not be sufficient to justify continued child support.  Whether you are seeking or opposing a continuation of child support beyond your child’s 18th birthday, the experienced Texas child support attorneys at McClure Law Group can help.  Call us at 214.692.8200 to schedule an appointment.

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