How to Plan for your Kid's College after a Divorce
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 education goals:
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 educational support.
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 considering college.
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 school graduation.