Paul L. Caron

Friday, April 22, 2011

Divorced Dad Who Is Paying for Child's College Has Right to See Report Card

National Law Journal, Divorced Parent Paying for College Can Demand to See the Report Card:

A divorced parent funding a child’s college education can demand the student’s academic records as a condition of payment, a state court judge says in a case of first impression. ...  "A child who demands financial contribution from her parents logically has a reciprocal obligation to provide basic information concerning college attendance and performance,” [the judge] wrote in Van Brunt v. Van Brunt, FM-15-091-08. He called the situation “wholly unacceptable and violative” of the rights of the father who was obligated to pay college expenses.

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In Ohio, parents are not obligated to pay for a child's college education and if it is not so stated in a divorce decree, then the decision to pay for the education is solely at the discretion of either or both parents. So, too, with private education while the child is a minor. To that end, if you anticipate any problems getting information you feel you may need to continue funding the education, don't obligate yourself when you get a divorce. That solves that part of the problem. If you cannot get the information because your child will not cooperate and you are not divorced but have voluntarily chosen to pay, it is your right to cut off the funding if your child does not cooperate. Remember, age 18 is the age of majority and our little darlings may do as they please. That also gives us rights as parents and the buck may just stop before it enters a college's accounting office to be applied toward tuition for a child who is non-cooperative. Child should have no say if mom and dad pay the bills. Very easy to enforce, mom and dad. The buck stays in your wallets.

Posted by: LAB | Apr 25, 2011 1:02:24 PM

If it is the case that the students are independent and the parents have no rights to see any performance or other info, then why do the students have to provide parents info in order to get student financial aid. If the parents have no rights, then they should also have no financial interest and the student should be able to look for aid without any parential involvement (or tax returns)

Posted by: Dondad | Apr 23, 2011 10:46:10 PM

I guess student scholoarships, loans, and work-study are for chumps. All a kid has to do is have divorced parents, and his dad has to give him a free ride through college. That makes having divorced parents sound a lot like like winning the lottery.

Posted by: lawp | Apr 23, 2011 7:59:35 PM

Isn't it curious that a college considers an 18 year old independent with respect to grades, conduct, and health services usage, and at the same time makes it next to impossible for a student under 24 to be emancipated when figuring financial aid?

Posted by: prjoslin | Apr 23, 2011 6:31:52 PM

The real problem with college fees is that there is a conflict of interest. The qualifications are awarded by the same institution that sold tuition services. Now if the award of qualifications and the provision of tuition had to be effected by legally independent bodies, the price of tuition, (if it is necessary at all - some students have the ability to read books all on their own), would probably go down to about 10% of its current level.
Mike Steane, author of Why You Can't Do Math and What To Do About It, available on Amazon Kindle

Posted by: Michael Steane | Apr 23, 2011 5:49:24 PM

When I raised this question with Old Father Laquedem many years ago, as I was going off to four years at a Fine Institution, he said that he had told the school to send my grades to whoever it expected to pay my tuition. Along that line, it seems to me that a school that won't send grades to a parent who's paying the tuition shouldn't be allowed to take the parent's income into account in figuring financial aid for the student.

Posted by: Isaac Laquedem | Apr 23, 2011 3:39:10 PM

Two kids in college and I don't care what the laws or rules are or having access to some slow moving periodic report. My verbal contract is with my kids that I have any university account passwords and they allow me access into that account at will. Most schools are moving every possible school-student transaction and interaction into the student account. I would like to mention that I have promised them I would stay out of their email account and I would never change or enter anything in their account.

I also have trained them early and often in maintaining a password vault and I have their master passwords sealed in envelopes in a safe in case of emergency or worse. Parents also have precious little survivor rights to email accounts and other cloud based repositories of identity and a bunch of legal hoops to get to bank accounts. It's helpful to have mutual trust to put it all into practice and keep it working but it's clear there's the money hammer to bring down if need be. YMMV. Parents should be actively working this issue years in advance of their children leaving for college because an out of the blue pronouncement of these conditions wouldn't set well with many kids, for good reason.

Posted by: AnObserver | Apr 23, 2011 1:36:38 PM

The student may not be "independent" per se, but as an 18-year-old, he or she is a legal adult with the sole right to determine who may view his or her academic records. If a parent is paying tuition and wants to see the student's grades, they will need to negotiate that with the student (at which point it may come down to "no report card, no money").

That said, if a parent is being forced to pay tuition by the court, then the court should also force the student to give all academic records to the paying parent(s).

Posted by: John S. | Apr 23, 2011 11:36:43 AM

As an instructor of undergraduates, primarily freshmen, I occasionally get a call or email from parents asking about grades. What I've been told by my administration is that, under FERPA, I can't discuss grades with a parent of a student who is over 18 unless 1) the student gives me permission, or 2) the parent forwards tax records to our Registrar's Office, demonstrating that the student is a dependent. That seems like a reasonable approach, allowing for parents who support their young adult offspring financially to see and discuss their academic progress with faculty, and allowing students who are independent of their parents the adult privilege of keeping their own business to themselves.

Posted by: Beth | Apr 23, 2011 11:08:37 AM

The last of my three children is finishing up his junior year. I have gone through this several times.

This law is based on the fiction that the student is "independent" because he/she is 18. I am sure that in a small minority of cases this is true.

However, in the majority of cases the student is completely dependent on his/her parents. That's why they are dependents on my tax return. The law, with incredible stupidity, declares the student to be completely independent.

Not only can't you see their grades without a waiver, you cannot be informed of any medical condition. In theory, you do not have to be informed until after you child is dead. (Someone after all must claim the body.) Hopefully, someone would be willing to break the law and inform you that your child was ill, but that turns the administration into lawbreakers.

Congress is such an ass.

Posted by: Ed D | Apr 23, 2011 9:36:48 AM

Since Santofsky v Kramer it has been established that parents have a "liberty interest in the care, custody and management of their child..."

How did the law turn things around so that a child's interest in being supported by parents trumps parental liberty interest?

Posted by: Sidney Raphael | Apr 23, 2011 9:27:07 AM

This issue was litigated? Has everyone gone mad?

Posted by: Peter | Apr 23, 2011 8:30:11 AM

If I'm paying for my kid's college education, you can bet your sweet ass I'm going to get transcripts of their grades come hell or high water.

Posted by: Mike | Apr 23, 2011 8:24:18 AM

I agree with Matthew-- this should have been something the parent worked out with the child before paying for college. This should have nothing to do with the college and they should not be required to release grades to anyone just because they're paying. At the colleges I worked for, we were not allowed to discuss grades with a parent or even acknowledge the student was in our class without permission from the student. This was to discourage stalkers posing as parents, as well as "helicopter parents". By the time you go to college, you should be independent and mature enough that Mommy and Daddy don't have to go follow up with your professors about your grades, no matter how much they're paying.

Posted by: Wacky Hermit | Apr 23, 2011 8:08:26 AM

I'm guessing that because the father was under court order to pay the tuition the court found that the only way for him to see the grades was a court order. In other words he wasn't allowed to say "no grades, no tuition."

Posted by: BladeDoc | Apr 23, 2011 8:00:30 AM

Why just this benefit for a divorced dad? In my case the ex and I were equally responsible for tuition for our child. Neither of us had a "right" to receive a copy of her grades, or information on her use of other campus services.

Posted by: aron | Apr 23, 2011 7:49:58 AM

Interesting, and if it stands it is a huge blow to the current interpretation of FERPA.

Posted by: Blue | Apr 23, 2011 7:35:12 AM

As Jake said above, there is a form my daughter's university has to allow the release of grades to parents. She signed the form. I signed the check ;-)

Posted by: phil | Apr 23, 2011 7:26:44 AM

I read this as a case where a noncustodial parent, required by by the court to pay all or part of the child's tuition, is being refused to see a "report card".
This is more than just grades, it is what classes, and points towards what degree even in cases where the declared major isn't printed.
This is correct. If a court is going to require payment, the paying parent should know, not hope, what that paying is actually buying.

Posted by: J'hn1 | Apr 23, 2011 7:23:09 AM

Okay - I am an instructor at a state University and we have been advised that parents and others can not see the students grades unless the student has signed a release. They are considered independent which is also how schools can give them "health" related items without the parents knowing. Along with that I can not discuss the students performance with the parent unless the student give me written permission to do so.
Most parents never ask but I have had a few call up and want to talk about their child's performance.

With my own it is I no see grades - you no see money :)

Posted by: Rich | Apr 23, 2011 6:58:53 AM

We went through this when my older daughter started college - after a semester when the college told us federal privacy laws prevented us from seeing our daughters grades and other information, we explained to our daughter that she could either sign a waiver so that we could receive ALL information with respect to her time at the college (grades, disciplinary action (if any), activities, etc.), or we would not continue to fund her education. When the younger daughter went off to college a couple of years later, the day we dropped her off, we made sure she signed the form to let us see all information before we left town. And, made it clear that the day we didn't get pertinent information was the day we stopped funding her education.

Posted by: CatoRenasci | Apr 23, 2011 6:33:56 AM

Ummm, Jake? Did you notice that in option (1) the child (young adult) has the choice to show grades or lose funding. The decision is not thrust upon him, but is his entirely. Which means that option (1) includes option (2) within it.

Posted by: tim maguire | Apr 23, 2011 6:28:07 AM

What's unclear here (to me at least) is whether the divorced Dad is obligated under the terms of the divorce to pay the child's college tuition. If he's compelled by the court to pay, then the child should be compelled to produce evidence of actually attending, etc. (Not that a court has ever compelled any mother to prove that child support was actually spent supporting the child.)

If he's voluntarily paying it, then he's in the same boat as the rest of us who can simply tell the kid, "show me the grades or I'm not paying". Which is really stupid, but that's the way it is.

Posted by: Locomotive Breath | Apr 23, 2011 6:27:21 AM

Heck -- on a related note, if your kid turn 18 in high school and you support that child the parents can't see the records.

The dad was *obligated* to pay the tuition (in the divorce settlement?) so it would seem that the expectation that the kid was showing up and doing something would be reasonable. The kid could choose to do it their way ... ;-)

Posted by: JAL | Apr 23, 2011 6:15:43 AM

I sent one child to Michigan and one to Pittsburgh. At Michigan the school took the absurd position that student privacy rights meant parents could not see their child's grades absent express consent from the child. Pittsburgh said, send us a copy of your tax return showing the child as a dependent, and you'll get all the child's report cards. Go Pitt!

Posted by: DBL2 | Apr 23, 2011 6:09:05 AM

When I divorced in Kentucky 12 years ago, my attorney told me no court in the state of Kentucky would require me to pay college tuition for my kids. She was right. I'm not required to pay any tuition and, unless their academic performance and other life performance meets my expectations, I don't.

Posted by: DADvocate | Apr 23, 2011 5:46:42 AM

Any parent who is paying for college should have their child's grades sent directly to them--period. The laws on this issue are wrong and should be repealed.

If my child does not want me to see the grades, then I would not pay for his/her college. In my case, there was an easier solution. I send my kids to a college that takes no state or federal money. The grades are sent directly to me (and to them). Problem solved.

Posted by: rs | Apr 23, 2011 5:43:10 AM

Restricting parents from seeing a student's grades isn't something that universities decide to do or not. Federal law makes that restriction (FERPA). If a student is under the age of 18, signs a waiver, or (as is evidently the case in this story) has a court order, then universities can pass along student information to parents. Is this judge carving our a new exception to FERPA (a law I hate by the way!) or is this a special case (the father is being forced to fund the student's education as part of a divorce settlement)?

Posted by: Anon Prof | Apr 23, 2011 5:36:14 AM

At my undergrad, there was a form they had for students to sign if they wanted their parents to view their grades. I paid for my own college (well Uncle Sam paid for it and maybe I'll be able to pay him back some day), so I didn't sign the form. I don't see why parents wouldn't just make their children sign a form like this if they were going to pay for their school-- I'm sure every school has to have something like it.

Posted by: Matthew N | Apr 23, 2011 12:34:17 AM

As to the last comment above -- which is the better outcome?

(1) Parent keeps cash. Child keeps privacy as to grades, but loses college tuition.

(2) Parent gives up cash but gets copy of grades. Child gives up privacy as to grades, but gets college tuition.

Outcome (2) seems a lot closer to a win-win solution than outcome (1), except perhaps to anyone who values privacy more highly than a free college education that someone else pays for.

Those who truly believe privacy may never be compromised are welcome to go live in a cave and enjoy private solitude, free of interference from commerce or other normal human relations.

Posted by: Jake | Apr 22, 2011 7:13:42 PM

I don't know about this one. The parent doesn't have a right to see the grades; that's absurd. The parent does have the right to say, "I'm not paying for this anymore." Now if the payments are simply palimony, then the parent doesn't have any more rights to the grades than s/he does to see how any other money is spent.

Posted by: reciprocal? | Apr 22, 2011 3:33:58 PM

Not only divorced fathers. Parents - isn't it the logic of the college/universities that the kid's of legal age, therefore, even tho the parent(s) is/r footing the bill, they have no right to see said return on their investment?

Posted by: Sandy P | Apr 22, 2011 1:15:28 PM

I thought men, especially divorced men had no rights.
The law sees them as merely sperm donors with wallets.
I am sure "a wise Latina" will overturn this double-unplus-good ruling.

Posted by: bonzo | Apr 22, 2011 11:31:08 AM