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

posted by Bedrock Divorce Advisors 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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