Appellate Court Overturns Trial Court’s Termination of Contribution to College Expenses

college buildingOnce a parent is ordered to contribute to their child’s college expenses, there has to be a “substantial change in circumstances” in order to change that order.  Substantial changes are fought about often, but in the case of Saracco, the Appellate Court found that the trial court’s modification of the college contribution by the mother was against the manifest weight of the evidence, and reversed the ruling.  As such, the mother in this case, will be held responsible for paying for 60% of her son’s college expenses.

When the parties divorced, the parties’ judgment reserved their contribution to their children’s college expenses.  After the divorce, the father brought a motion on behalf of his son, Dino, and the trial court ordered both parents to split the cost of sending Dino to school.  The mother was required to pay 60% of the costs and the father was ordered to contribute 40%.  When Dino was in his third year of college, the mother sought to terminate her obligation to support.  The trial court heard that Dino had average grades and that he wouldn’t work while he was in school.  The mother also argued that the father received benefits of $11,000 a year for one of their disabled children, and that this also led to a “substantial change” in circumstances.

When arguing a substantial change before the court, you have to be able to establish what the change was between the time the order was entered and what is now occurring.  In this case, Dino had average grades in his first year, and had average grades when his mother sought to terminate her obligation.  Dino had attempted work in his first semester, but did not enjoy the job.  This seemed to bother the judge, this child’s desire not to work, since in the judge’s ruling, he mentions that the Court is troubled by the child’s desire not to work.  But at the previous hearing that was before the Court, this judge also heard that the child did not want to work.  So again, no change in circumstance.  When the Appellate court reviewed the parties’ finances, again, they were unable to find a substantial change in circumstances.  Without the substantial change, a party is not entitled to the modification.

A modification of a court order is not simply that you don’t want it anymore or you feel like you did not get the result you sought the first time.  There has to be the substantial change.  In the Saracco case, the Appellate Court reviewed what possible changes could have occurred, and each time, they found the same positions as when college support was initially set.  For those reasons, the Appellate Court denied the mother’s ability to modify her support order and required her to pay 60% of her son’s college education.

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