Temporary breaks in post-secondary vocational education do not violate the continuous enrollment requirement of Missouri's post-secondary education child support law.
Child support in Missouri can continue after the child turns 18, and until 21, if the child is attending a post high school education program, provided that several requirements are met. (See RSMo section 452.340.5 below in the extended post). One such requirement is that the child be continuously enrolled in the education program. A recent ruling from the Court of Appeals held that temporary breaks during the education, in this case a vocational program, do not violate the continuous enrollment requirement. The Court stated that the statute clearly contemplates a reasonable semester-long break, which is the summer break in a traditional college schedule, from post-secondary schooling. The statue does not require a post-secondary student to attend school for over a year without a break, or until 21 with no break whatsoever.
In the recent case, the student was attending a vocational program that had a course schedule in 60 week blocks (a year and a few months), and the non-custodial parent attempted to terminate the child support and emancipate the child when the child took a 10 week break, not enrolling in the next session immediately after the previous one. The trial court agreed and ordered the child emancipated, but the Court of Appeals reversed, stating that a child should not have additional burdens placed on him or her simply because they attend a vocational program rather than a traditional college. See below for the complete text of the relevant statute.
RSMo section 452.340.5, pertaining to post secondary education requirements for child support, reads as follows:
If when a child reaches age eighteen, the child is enrolled in and attending a secondary school program of instruction, the parental support obligation shall continue, if the child continues to attend and progresses toward completion of said program, until the child completes such program or reaches age twenty-one, whichever first occurs. If the child is enrolled in an institution of vocational or higher education not later than October first following graduation from a secondary school or completion of a graduation equivalence degree program and so long as the child enrolls for and completes at least twelve hours of credit each semester, not including the summer semester, at an institution of vocational or higher education and achieves grades sufficient to reenroll at such institution, the parental support obligation shall continue until the child completes his or her education, or until the child reaches the age of twenty-one, whichever first occurs. To remain eligible for such continued parental support, at the beginning of each semester the child shall submit to each parent a transcript or similar official document provided by the institution of vocational or higher education which includes the courses the child is enrolled in and has completed for each term, the grades and credits received for each such course, and an official document from the institution listing the courses which the child is enrolled in for the upcoming term and the number of credits for each such course. When enrolled in at least twelve credit hours, if the child receives failing grades in half or more of his or her courseload in any one semester, payment of child support may be terminated and shall not be eligible for reinstatement. Upon request for notification of the child's grades by the noncustodial parent, the child shall produce the required documents to the noncustodial parent within thirty days of receipt of grades from the education institution. If the child fails to produce the required documents, payment of child support may terminate without the accrual of any child support arrearage and shall not be eligible for reinstatement. If the circumstances of the child manifestly dictate, the court may waive the October first deadline for enrollment required by this subsection. If the child is enrolled in such an institution, the child or parent obligated to pay support may petition the court to amend the order to direct the obligated parent to make the payments directly to the child. As used in this section, an "institution of vocational education" means any post-secondary training or schooling for which the student is assessed a fee and attends classes regularly. "Higher education" means any community college, college, or university at which the child attends classes regularly. A child who has been diagnosed with a developmental disability, as defined in section 630.005, RSMo, or whose physical disability or diagnosed health problem limits the child's ability to carry the number of credit hours prescribed in this subsection, shall remain eligible for child support so long as such child is enrolled in and attending an institution of vocational or higher education, and the child continues to meet the other requirements of this subsection. A child who is employed at least fifteen hours per week during the semester may take as few as nine credit hours per semester and remain eligible for child support so long as all other requirements of this subsection are complied with.