Court clarifies confusing child support statute pertaining to college course requirements:

The Missouri statute that mandates the continuation of child support after age 18 if the child attends college was amended in 2007, and provisions were added that are somewhat contradictory. In a recent ruling by the Missouri Court of Appeals, the Court clarified the statute, as well what will cause a child to fail to meet the credit hour requirements of the statute.

Section 452.340.5 RSMo states: If when a child reaches eighteen, . . . [i]f the child is enrolled in an institution of vocational or higher education not later than October first following graduation from a secondary school . . . and so long as the child enrolls for and completes at least twelve hours of credit each semester, not including 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. . . .

The statute goes on to provide that "[w]hen 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."

The case law until the statute was amended clearly held that a child must enroll and actually complete 12 hours of credit, and failing grades in any class could cause the child not to meet the credit hour requirement as no credit is given for a failing grade. However, the court has now clarified that the prior case law, specifically the Lombardo line of cases, is effectively overruled and now, with the addition of “failing half or more of his or her courseload” language, a failing grade no longer triggers a failure to comply with the credit-hour requirement, provided that the child does not fail half or more of their classes (if enrolled in at least 12 hours). The Court stated:

“Where a student voluntarily withdraws from a class prior to its completion, he or she clearly fails to meet the requirements of the statute that the student complete the class [12 hour requirement]. On the other hand, where a child receives a failing grade in a course, provided the child does not fail half or more of his or her classes, the child is deemed to satisfy the requirements of § 452.340.5.3”

Interestingly, in the recent case, the child actually withdrew from the class instead of failing, but the evidence showed that the child was withdrawn by the teacher and not the student himself as a “favor” to avoid receiving a failing grade, so the Court deemed that a failing grade and treated it as such under the statute. Outside of this exception however, it seems that a typical withdrawal will fall under the “completion” requirement of the statute.

The entire opinion can be read here