The Supreme Court of Georgia recently clarified the meaning of “attends school” as it relates to child support obligations. Draughn v. Draughn, S10A1599 (2011). In that case,the parties’ divorce decree stated that the father was to pay child support until the child “reaches the age of eighteen…; provided that if [the child] becomes eighteen years old while enrolled in and attending a secondary school on a full time basis, then the child support shall continue for [said child] until he has graduated from secondary school or reaches the age of twenty,whichever comes first.” Id. Shortly before the child turned 18, he stopped attending private high school and enrolled in an online high school equivalency program, but he failed to complete the online program and did not graduate. Id. at 2. After the father subsequently stopped paying child support, the mother filed a motion for contempt.
An issue addressed by the Supreme Court of Georgia on appeal was whether online schooling satisfies the requirement that the child “attends” a secondary school. The trial court found that online classes were not considered to be “attending school”, but the Supreme Court of Georgia disagreed. (Interestingly, the trial court did not base its contempt judgment on this finding, but the Supreme Court of Georgia was concerned as to whether the trial court’s assertion was correct and, therefore, asked the parties to address the issue so it could rule.)
The Supreme Court of Georgia unequivocally held that “once a child enrolls in approved online courses in an effort to graduate from secondary school, his online attendance constitutes ‘attending school’ for purposes of extending child support beyond the child’s attainment of the age of majority.” Id. at 4-5. The Court based its ruling on the state government’s endorsement and regulation of online learning opportunities. In doing so, the Court is keeping up with the realities of the digital age and allowing children to participate in alternative forms of education.