Divorce, Child Support, And College Tuition
With the costs of college tuition climbing higher and higher every year, parents are being forced to start planning for their children’s higher education almost as soon as they’re born. But what happens when there’s a divorce? What legal obligations, if any, do parents have to pay for their children’s college expenses, and is that money part of child support?
Divorce Settlement Stipulations
The most common way that divorcing parents can ensure that their children’s college fund is not derailed is to specify that money be set aside solely for that purpose in the divorce settlement. To make sure that both parents are “on the same page”, the agreement should make the following things clear:
- Does the agreement cover private school tuition, or public school only? What if a child gets accepted to a school out-of-state?
- Specifically, what expenses are covered? Most likely tuition; but, what about room and board, meals, books, and daily living expenses?
- How and when will payments be made?
- Must your children meet any conditions in order for the parents’ financial obligations to continue (for example, maintaining a certain GPA)?
- Is there a finite time limit on the duration of each parent’s obligation to cover their children’s college expenses?
A final issue to address is whether or not the agreement can be modified at any point in time. A child and/or parent’s views about attending college may change over time. If those views preclude the need for college (or if the child gets a full or partial scholarship), can the agreement change to reflect the new circumstances?
Using An Escrow Account
Putting money into an escrow account, either before or during a divorce, is another option to consider. An escrow account provides some additional protections to ensure that one or both parents can’t back out of college tuition contributions.
Generally speaking, using an escrow account is more effective if all of the money needed for college is available at the time the account is created.
Tuition After Child Support Ends
Obviously, not all divorces happen when children are still young. It may be that a child’s parents get divorced shortly before, or just after, their child becomes a legal adult. Under California law, a parent’s legal obligation to pay child support ends when the child turns eighteen.
But what about college tuition at that point? Basically, unless both parents agree to help pay for their child’s college education as part of their divorce settlement, there isn’t any other legal obligation for them to provide assistance.
Helping a child pay for college is not the same thing as spousal support, and a child in, or about to go to college cannot demand financial assistance from their parents in any legal sense during a divorce.
How A Lawyer Can Help
Working with a competent family law attorney can be helpful if you would like to make college tuition part of your divorce settlement. There are many ways to structure a college savings plan during a divorce, and having an attorney to guide you can help ease the stress of figuring it out on your own.
For additional information, or to speak with an attorney right away, please call us or request a free family law consultation.
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