For the past 24 years, since the case of Bayliss v. Bayliss was decided, child support awards have included post-minority support for college. In other words, even though under Alabama law your child is no longer a minor after reaching age 19, a non-custodial parent could still be required to provide support for college expenses. In a significant Alabama Supreme Court decision, handed down on October 4th, college expenses are no longer a factor in child support awards.
The rationale behind the Bayliss decision.
In 1989, the Supreme Court interpreted Alabama’s child support statute to allow for post-minority support for a child’s college education. In doing so, the Court essentially created new law, as the statutory age of majority in Alabama is 19. In Bayliss, the Court determined that the statutory term “children of the marriage” did not refer only to minors, despite the long-standing construction of the statute to the contrary. Since the decision 24 years ago, courts have continuously expanded the ruling to include other expenses tied to college education.As Stephen Johnson, chairman of the Family Bar Section of the Alabama State Bar Association, has pointed out, “[t]he Bayliss case has been the subject of controversy for the last 24 years.”
Christopher v. Christopher expressly overruled Bayliss.
In reaching its decision, the Alabama Supreme Court in Christopher pointed out that there have been no new statutes relating to children or child support which changed the definition of “child” since the Bayliss decision. The Court stated in its conclusion:
“The Bayliss Court failed to recognize the ordinary and common-law definitions of ‘child’ as a minor, did not defer to the Legislature’s designation of the age of majority, and failed to observe the canon of construction that courts cannot supply what a statute omits. Accordingly, we expressly overrule Bayliss.” The Court also explained that “reversing Bayliss and returning the Legislative power to decide if post-minority educational support should be authorized in a divorce case, does not make new law but, instead vindicates the old one from misrepresentation.”
What about prior awards of college support?
The Supreme Court was clear that this decision will not affect final post-minority educational support orders which were entered before this decision was handed down. However, any future decisions will be overruled.
Please contact our office at (205) 988-5570 if you have further questions.