Divorcing Parents and Obligations to Pay for College

Child Custody

During the divorce process, inevitably the issue of college is raised. For parents with young children, typically Courts are unlikely to address the issue of college expenses directly in a decision. Whereas, for parents with older children either in high school or actually in college, Courts have been found to obligate parents with respect to college expense decisions.

If there are young children, although a Court may not obligate parents during the divorce process, many parties prefer to iron out the issue of college expenses at that time instead of waiting until their children are older and applying to colleges. There are many benefits to providing for terms regarding college in a divorce settlement regardless of the age of children. Below are a few reasons to settle the issue of college during a divorce.

1. Define College Expenses – Instead of fighting when a child is applying for college over what is included under college expense, define the term in the divorce agreement. Generally, college expenses include tuition, mandatory fees, room & board, books and supplies, laboratory materials. In addition, sometimes parties agree to also include transportation to/from college to the custodial parent’s residence as well as the expenses associated with applying for college including college applications, SAT/ACT registration, and preparatory courses and Advanced Placement Tests.

2. Capping Parents Obligation – In many divorce settlements, parties agree to cap their obligation to pay for college expenses. Depending on the factors of each family, the cap might be the cost each year for a SUNY college education. For higher-income families that anticipate children attending private schools, a cap might be the cost each year for a SUNY college education multiplied by two. In addition, some parties agree that an obligation to pay for college will not commence until the child applies for loans, grants, and scholarships.

3. Non-custodial Parent’s Room and Board Credit – When a child attends college away from the residence of the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent may be entitled to a credit for any room & board that they pay against their basic child support obligation.

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