When there is no agreement in place on who pays for a child’s college expenses after a divorce, the requirement of the divorcing parents to pay for their child's college expenses will depend on state law.
In some states, child support stops when a child is 18 or graduates from high school, in other states child support ends at 21. Some states require that the divorcing parents pay for college tuition expense and some states do not while other states view these as conditional expenses or luxury expenses.
Some states automatically limit child support to minors, while other states can sometimes force a parent to pay for educational expenses until the child has received their degree.
What If My State Does Not Grant College Tuition Expense Support?
If the state that you reside in does not grant child support for college tuition expense, the divorcing parents can still come to an agreement on whether they should split the cost for each child’s child expense.
If the parties reached an agreement and the agreement contains a provision requiring a parent or parent(s) to share in the cost of tuition and expenses should their child or children pursue a college education. In this instance, the court can enforce the agreement and order a parent to pay for this portion of support even after the child has been emancipated.
How Much College Tuition Expense Would I Have to Pay?
If the state requires that the divorcing parents must pay for a child’s college tuition as a form of child support, many states have created procedures on how much of the college expense the parents have to pay. College expenses may include:
- Room & Board;
- Cell phone expenses;
- New computer and related costs;
- Food and clothing allowances;
- Emergencies funds; and/or
- Transportation costs.
Do I Have Any Say in College Decisions?
If you are the non-custodial parent, some states do give you some say in the choice of college, or some states (like Connecticut) automatically cap the maximum amount required at the cost of in-state tuition. In that scenario, that would mean even if the child gets into Yale, the non-custodial parent would only have to contribute enough to get the child into a "good" state school.
What Factors Do Courts Consider When Deciding Whether to Grant College Tuition Expenses?
This area of law is very discretionary, however, with Judges having broad powers to rule as they wish to best match the case at hand. When deciding whether to force a parent to pay, the court will probably consider some of the following factors:
- The parent's relative financial resources;
- The child's scholastic aptitude and whether they want to attend college;
- Pre-divorce parental expectations;
- The child’s best interest;
- The child’s financial resources;
- Whether the parents would have paid for college expense if they were still married; and/or
- Availability of financial aid and scholarships for the child.
What If I Already Made Arrangements in my Divorce Proceedings for College?
If divorcing parents reach an agreement during their divorce about payment of college expenses and put it into writing, the courts will likely enforce it. The above explanations generally only apply to people who made no such provisions (which is sadly most of the time). Common arrangements for parents to make are to limit the number of semesters a child can go to college.
Do I Need an Attorney?
If you are faced with the sudden demand of college tuition, or else you wish to request college tuition funds from a non-custodial parent, it is very important hire a family law attorney for help understanding how child support guidelines work. An experienced lawyer in your area can provide you with valuable legal information, advice, and representation during court proceedings.