Of course, parents can have very different ideas about college regardless
of the status of their marriage. However, these differences of opinion
can become more divisive once a marriage has ended and the ex-spouses
have started new lives and, possibly, new families.
Planning for post-secondary education in the context of a divorce is further
complicated by the fact that not all states will order a parent to pay
support to a child after the child reaches the age of majority.
The following are three essential steps that you should take during and
after your divorce to help your child reach his or her post-secondary
Consult with an Experienced Family Attorney
During your divorce, it is essential that you seek the advice of an experienced
family law attorney regarding your child's right to post-secondary
In some states, a court will order a parent to pay support after the age
of majority when a child is unable to support himself due to a disability,
but not for a child to attend college or post-secondary vocational training.
However, many of these states will enforce private agreements that provide
for post-secondary educational support.
Other states, including the state of Washington,
will order a parent to pay post-secondary support for a child if certain factors
are met. However, post-secondary education support is not mandatory even
in the states that will order it.
An experienced family law attorney can help you devise a post-secondary
educational support plan that is both realistic for your family and also
in compliance with the legal standards of your state.
Plan ahead for how you will deal with your kids’ college costs by
including a specific provision in your final agreement and orders. You
must address the issue of post-secondary educational support in your final
divorce agreement or a court order, even if your children are very young
at the time your divorce is finalized.
Ideally, your agreement and/or order should have a specific plan for how
expenses will be shared between, and paid by, the parents and the child.
Common provisions will address whether the child is required to seek financial
aid (grants, scholarships, and loans) before the parents are obligated
to pay for support; the maximum amount of tuition that the parents will
be obligated to pay; and the specific additional expenses, such as housing,
meals, and transportation, to be paid by the parents.
In some cases, it may not be possible to devise a highly specific plan
at the conclusion of a divorce. In these cases, the issue may simply need
to be reserved for later negotiation or court action. However, it is critical
that your agreement or order make it clear that the parents will provide
post-secondary educational support. Without such a provision, you may
lose the right to seek it later.
Plan for College with Your Agreement or Order in Mind
By the time your child actually begins applying for college, your divorce
may be an unpleasant, but distant, memory. However, it is critical that
you review your divorce agreement or
child support order well in advance of the child support for that child ending.
If you already have a specific plan for payment of college expenses, your
divorce agreement or order can guide both you and your child in choosing
a desirable and affordable college. If your agreement or support order
does not have specific provisions for payment of college expenses, you
must be prepared to engage in negotiation or possibly even litigation
with your ex-spouse in order to determine how expenses will be paid.
In cases where your child's right to post-secondary support must be
exercised within a certain time frame - such as before an 18
th birthday or high school graduation - it is important to review your divorce
agreement or support order as soon as possible after your child begins
In short, the issue of post-secondary educational support should be integral
to your college planning from the outset.
Working with an experienced family attorney during and after your divorce
can be invaluable in ensuring that your child's college goals are
reached. A seasoned family law professional can guide you in pre-planning
for college, as well as in enforcing these plans as your child nears high