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Are Divorced Parents Required to Pay for their Children’s College Education?

posted by admin 10:00 AM
Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Child support payments generally stop when children reach the “age of emancipation.” In most states, that age is between 18 and 21. But what obligations do parents have to pay for their children’s college education?

Whether divorced parents have a legal obligation to pay for their children’s education depends on the state in which the divorce occurred.

The following states have laws that allow courts to order the non-custodial parent to help pay for college (depending on the state, the cost of college may include, tuition, room and board, books, extracurricular activities and a monthly allowance); Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.

Alaska, Nebraska and New Hampshire currently have laws on the books that prohibit the courts from ordering college support, except in those cases where the parents had a previous agreement.

Even in the states that don’t require paying for college expenses, courts recognize the need for children to have a college education. Therefore, they can allow the issue to be included in the divorce settlement agreement, including the amount and term of alimony to be paid.

The best way to deal with this during your divorce is to negotiate a written college support agreement in addition to any other child support agreements.

A college support agreement should include:

• What percentage of college expenses each parent is responsible for
• How many semesters of support will be provided
• Any limits on yearly payments
• Whether or not there is an age limit for the child to attend
• Any restrictions on which college the child should attend
• If there should be a minimum GPA
• Exactly what expenses will be covered

Alternatively, if there are many years remaining before the children start college, it might be preferable to negotiate a lump sum payment up front assuming there are sufficient assets available to do this. Since you never know what can happen over a long period of time – your ex-husband can die or go bankrupt – a bird in hand might be just the way to go.

However, ascertaining the future costs of college can be very difficult, especially if the children are still young. Unfortunately, most divorce attorneys don’t have the training or expertise to compute complex projections of future college costs and what the present value of those future costs would be in today’s dollars. That’s just one of many reasons why you should consult with one of our Divorce Financial Strategists™.


All content on this site/blog is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice.
If you require legal advice, retain a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. The opinions expressed are
solely those of the author, who is not an attorney.
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One of the issues that often gets overlooked during your divorce is securing your divorce settlement payments, like alimony and child support, should something happen to your ex-husband.  The death of an ex-spouse, and subsequent loss of that income, could be financially devastating.

The Divorce Financial Strategists™ here at Bedrock Divorce Advisors™ bring up this issue with all of our clients because we’ve seen what losing this income can do to families.  Our recommendation is that a life insurance policy be set up in such a way that you will receive a tax-free, lump-sum payment of what you would have received over time from your alimony, child support and/or other divorce-related payments.

It is important to set up this life insurance policy before your divorce has been finalized.  This is because your husband could refuse to cooperate after the divorce in getting the required medical exam.  Or, you may find that he is uninsurable.  Either way, you need to know this before the divorce is finalized so that, if necessary, you can find alternate ways of securing your divorce settlement payments.

It is also critically important that you become the owner or irrevocable beneficiary of the policy.  If you are not, your ex-spouse could stop making payments and you would never know about it until it was too late.  However, if you are the owner or irrevocable beneficiary of the policy, you would be notified of non-payment of the premium and could take action before the policy lapsed.

Using life insurance to ensure divorce settlement payments can be very complex.  The laws and regulations differ from state to state.  Therefore, it is very important that you consult with someone who is knowledgeable and experienced in using life insurance and other methods to secure divorce settlement payments.

You might also consider setting up a disability insurance policy.  Statistically there is a higher chance that your ex-husband would become disabled rather than actually passing away.  If something happens to him and he is no longer able to work, he might seek a reduction in his alimony and child support payments.  Unfortunately, unlike life insurance, the ex-wife cannot own a policy on her former husband.  So you would need to put a mechanism in place to make sure that the disability policy payments are made.

If you have any questions about how to secure your alimony, child support and other divorce settlement payments, please contact one of our Divorce Financial Strategists™ here at Bedrock Divorce Advisors and we’ll make sure that you take the right steps.

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