KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Noncustodial parents have to pay child support for their children in college only until they turn 21, after a new law dropped the maximum age by a year.
Last week's change could cut off child support for 3,200 current college students older than 21. The new law allows a parent to stop paying after a child turns 21 or fails at least half of his or her courses in a college semester. A parent still can stop paying at 18 if the child does not pursue a higher education.
But some lawmakers still argue the maximum age should be dropped to 18. Thirty-eight other states end required child support at age 18 or upon high school graduation. Massachusetts and Hawaii are on the high end at age 23 if enrolled in college.
But critics of the change say Missouri was doing something better than other states, meaning the drop to 21 could jeopardize the senior year for lots of college students, ignite new fighting between divorced parents and flood the courts with new litigation.
Rep. Brian Baker, R-Belton, said he pushed for the change because he had heard from fathers who were frustrated at being required to pay child support for children who were underperforming in college.
"Besides, go ask some college students whether they are adults or children -- see what they say," Baker said.
Others said they wondered why noncustodial parents should have to continue paying support when married parents don't have to.
"My wife and I would not be required by law to support our children past age 18 -- why should it be different for divorced parents?" Baker asked.
Carla Holste, of the family law section of the Missouri Bar, said she hopes that parents paying child support will continue to help children in college past 21.
"But we in family law know the depths of animosity between divorced couples," Holste said. "Some parents who have been paying will say, 'What ... I don't have to pay anymore? Well, then, I'm done.'"
The child support law was part of a bill that bars the Department of Social Services from closing child abuse investigations when the alleged victim dies until after the death investigation has been included.