Senator Scott Webster. (IA Legislature photo)

A bill eligible for debate in the Iowa Senate would prohibit judges from requiring a divorcing parent to cover some of the costs of their child’s college education.

Senator Scott Webster, a Republican from Bettendorf, said the bill is sponsored by another senator, in response to a specific case. “A father was weaponizing this particular system against a mother who couldn’t afford the college. She then had the opportunity to go to court and it got dropped, but she still had to pay all the legal fees,” Webster said.

An Iowa judge currently has the option of ordering a parent getting a divorce to pay up to a third of the total cost of their child’s undergraduate education. Webster said it’s an equal protection issue. “The subsidy does not currently apply to any other parents: married, single or never married,” Webster said.

Senator Nate Boulton, a Democrat from Des Moines, said his parents were divorced when he went to college and their divorce decree helped navigate the financial aspect of getting that degree. “There are ways to make this system better,” Boulton said. “There are ways to make it more fair and I think we are all open to that discussion, but simply to pull the rug out from underneath kids from divorced families who want to go to college is the wrong way to do this.”

The bill cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Senator Herman Quirmbach, a Democrat from Ames who voted against the bill, said parents have an obligation to provide for their children and college is a big step forward in life. “It’s certainly possible for people to get good jobs without a college degree and have a perfectly happy life,” Quirmbach said, “but on average college graduates earn significantly higher over a lifetime. They have a greater degree of marriage stability. They have a longer life span, on average.”

That kind of criticism is “a little bit disrespectful,” according to Webster. “It’s been said, maybe discussed that college is the way to go,” Webster said. “I didn’t go to college. My wife didn’t go to college. We turned out good.”

Iowa is one of 17 states that allow judges to order a divorcing parent to pay at least part of a child’s college tuition and fees.

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