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Parents in Iowa generally have a duty to support their children financially irrespective of the circumstances under which they are born.
The non-custodial parent will be ordered to pay child support in some amount in almost all circumstances; some exception exist, such as shared care arrangements (equal custody), explained next.
If it is a shared care arrangement where the child lives with each parent equally, then the parent that has a higher earning capacity will often times be required to pay child support. In situations where one is required to pay child support because of a higher income, the amount is usually not as much as if the child lived with the other parent primarily.
A parent will be financially responsible for their child whether they are born to that parent or legally adopted by them. If a married couple has children and they decide to get divorced, the court will determine which party will have to pay child support.
If unwed individuals have a child or children and one of them petitions the court, the Court will also decide who must pay child support and in what amount. Even if neither unwed party petitions the court, but the primary caregiver is receiving some form of government assistance, the state may, on its own accord, request child support be established to help defer the cost to the government.
The amount of child support ordered will vary widely on a case-by-case basis depending upon the income of the parents and the physical care arrangement of the parties or order of the court. The court is required to follow the child support amount set forth by the Iowa Child Support Guidelines unless the special circumstances of the case require adjustment of the child support amount.
Generally, a court must follow the Iowa Child Support Guidelines in setting the amount of child support a parent is ordered to pay. The purpose of the guidelines is to provide for the best interests of the children while also taking into account each parent’s income. Determining a parent’s income for the purposes of the Guidelines takes into account several factors including earned income from working, bonuses, employee benefits, Social Security benefits, tax deductions, and several other factors.
The Iowa legislature has reworked the guidelines numerous times over the years. In fact, as of the end of 2012, a committee set up to review the guidelines has reviewed and recommended modifications to the current guidelines. Currently, the monthly support amount that can generally be ordered can be as low as $10 for an individual who is incapable of working. On the other end of the spectrum , if an individual makes over $20,000 per month, the courts have discretion to set the amount of child support as it sees fit and support is not directly governed by the guidelines. This threshold for monthly income to reach what is referred to as the “discretionary range” of child support is recommended to be raised to $25,000 by the current Child Support review Committee.
Iowa courts will not enforce any agreement that cancels a parent’s obligation to pay child support. Iowa courts will also not enforce any agreement made by the parties that deviate from the guidelines unless the court determines that it is in the best interests of the child.
Generally, a parent’s obligation to pay child support continues from the time the child support order is put in place until the child reaches age 18 (or 19, if they are still working toward a high school diploma or a GED). Child support can continue past a child’s 19th birthday in certain circumstances such as if the child has a physical or mental disability which makes them dependent on a parent.
If a parent who is ordered to pay child support is not paying or is paying less than the amount they are required to pay, assistance is available to help collect child support that is due to a parent. Iowa has an agency called the Child Support Recovery Unit (CRSU) that is responsible for enforcing child support orders and processing support payments. The CSRU also offers other services such as:
CSRU uses a variety of methods to enforce child support orders, including:
Iowa Code section 598.21F, the Post-Secondary Education Subsidy Statute, allows a court in Iowa to order a postsecondary education subsidy also known as a PSES. A postsecondary education subsidy is an order by the court which requires either parent of a divorced child to pay a portion of the child’s college expenses if the child qualifies and certain financial requirements are met.
First, it is essential to note that this statute only applies to children of parents who are divorced. It does not provide a possibility of a subsidy for children of parents who are still married or never were married.
Second, it only applies to parents who were divorced in Iowa under Iowa Code chapter 598. So if a couple divorced in another state, the parent or child cannot seek PSES in Iowa later.
If the child is of divorced parents in Iowa and the divorce decree does not already mandate payment of college expenses to either or both parents, then the next step of the Court is to determine whether the child is eligible for the subsidy.
To determine whether the child is eligible, “the child must be between the ages of 18 and 22 and must have a demonstrated capacity to succeed in postsecondary education.” In re Marriage of Vaughan, 812 N.W.2d 688, 693 (Iowa 2012). (emphasis added). Many cases have found that either showing the child’s good grades in high school or admission itself into college is sufficient to show a demonstrated capacity to succeed in postsecondary education. In addition, students qualify so long as they are older than seventeen but less than twenty-three.
Next, the Court “may” order a postsecondary education subsidy if “good cause” is shown. Factors that the Court considers include “the age of the child, the ability of the child relative to postsecondary education, the child's financial resources, whether the child is self-sustaining, and the financial condition of each parent.” Iowa Code § 598.21 F(2). The Court engages in a financial balancing test to determine the amount of costs not covered by the child’s loans, scholarships, and other means such as employment of child and how much of those employment earnings could properly go toward education
Upon a showing of good cause, the Code provides a process for determining the amount of subsidy.
First, the court determines the cost of postsecondary education based upon the estimated college expenses provided at one of Iowa’s three public institutions, either the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, or the University of Northern Iowa. The cost of postsecondary education includes tuition, fees, textbooks, and housing.
Next, the court is to determine the amount, if any, the child may reasonably be expected to contribute, considering the child's financial resources, the availability of financial aid such as scholarships, grants, or student loans, and the ability of the child to earn income while attending school.
Third, the court is to deduct the child's expected contribution from the cost of postsecondary education to arrive at a figure for the “remaining cost” of the postsecondary education. § 598.21F(c).
Once the remaining cost has been determined, the court divides the responsibility of the remaining cost to each parent. The statute, however, explicitly caps the amount each parent is to pay to no more than 33 1/3 % of the total cost of the child's postsecondary education at a state institution. Even when the parents have few resources, a “modest” educational subsidy may be appropriate, but must not cause undue financial hardship. Vaughan, 812 N.W.2d at 695 (citing In re Marriage of Neff, 675 N.W.2d 573, 579 (Iowa 2004)) (subsidy as low as $25 per month appropriate if the parent has modest income).
It is entirely possible that a Court could find no subsidy is necessary based upon the financial resources, including scholarships and financial aid available to the child. Where the child's expected contribution exceeds the total cost of attending an in-state university, then no subsidy can be ordered.
It is also important to point out that not all costs associated with college are included or should be included in a child’s total cost of education. Some costs of college items are at least debatable, such as football tickets, fraternity costs or fraternity merchandise purchases, cell phone charges, car tax, insurance, license and repair fees, and income tax filing expenses.
Iowa Code section 598.21 F(4) provides “[a] postsecondary education subsidy shall not be awarded if the child has repudiated the parent by publicly disowning the parent, refusing to acknowledge the parent, or by acting in a similar manner.”
There are also obligations of any child who is awarded a post-secondary education subsidy by the court. The statute requires that the child forward each parent reports of grades awarded at the completion of each academic session within ten days of receipt of the reports.
Unless otherwise specified by the parties, a postsecondary education subsidy awarded by the court shall be terminated upon the child’s completion of the first calendar year of course instruction if the child fails to maintain a cumulative grade point average in the median range or above during that first calendar year.
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