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Post-Minority Support, "New" Developments By G. R. Fernambucq

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Prior to the decision in Ex Parte Bayliss in 1989, the Alabama courts had consistently denied requests that a parent be compelled to contribute to an adult child’s post-secondary education. This landmark decision instructed the courts to consider a number of factors, including:

    • The financial resources of the parents and the child;
    • The child’s commitment to, and aptitude for, the requested education;
    • The standard of living that the child would have enjoyed had there been no divorce;
    • The child’s relationship with the parents;
    • The child’s responsiveness to parental advice and guidance, and;
    • All other relevant factors which appear reasonable and necessary.

Over the last twenty years, this case, and the theory of law which it established, has been the topic of many, many decisions reported from our Appellate Courts. It only took three years for the Court of Civil Appeals in a 1991 decision to refer to some of the factors as “a thicket of speculation” into which they refused to venture.

One aspect of Bayliss which remained relatively constant was the restriction on what should be included as an expense to attend college. Bayliss made it clear that the obligations only extended to “room, board, books, tuition and fees.” Cases since then have clarified some of these categories; however, the decisions which have actually expanded these areas have been few. The first such “expansion” came ten years after Bayliss in 1999. The case Hill v. Hill, 739 So.2d 501 (Ala.Civ.App. 1999) affirmed the trial court where it had ordered the father to pay a certain amount to the mother for the child’s “extraordinary college expenses incurred in commuting” to and from college 100 Page 2 of 2 Post-Minority Support “New” Developments miles away. There was testimony at trial that it was more economical for the child to commute to classes, and live with her mother, than to live on campus at school. The Court of Civil Appeals found that these expenses “were directly related to the child’s college education” and affirmed. For an extended period of time, medical insurance and medical expenses for a child beyond the age of majority were not included as “post-minority support.” It took fifteen years before the case of Waddell v. Waddell, 904 So.2d 1275 (Ala.Civ.App. 2004) specifically overruled all prior decisions and held that healthcare expenses may be properly included in a judgment awarding Bayliss support.

The recent decision of Wagner v. Wagner, 2060372 (Ala.Civ.App. 2/15/2008) will have a significant impact on prior decisions. The trial court in this case incorporated specific monthly allotments for various automobile and personal expenses in its post-minority educational support award which included:

    • $227.50 per month for automobile insurance, fuel, and maintenance;
    • $150.00 per month for food in addition to the meal plan provided by the college;
    • $60.00 per month for toiletries, and;
    • $8.75 per month for the health and recreation center.

Even though there have been a number of lower courts that have been reversed which included expenses over and above “room, board, books, tuition, and fees,” the trial court in Wagner was affirmed after the Appellate Court concluded that “a reasonable fact finder could have determined that these expenses were reasonably necessary” for the child to attend college. Wagner specifically holds that post-minority educational support may include more than the costs of tuition and books, and may include other expenses that the trial court, acting within its discretion, determines to be reasonably necessary for the child to attend college.

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