In any home, paying for college is a significant, often the most significant expense a family makes, with the exception of a home purchase. For divorced or divorcing parents, college expenses represent another factor is often included in the divorce settlement.
Even for the parents of young children, college expenses should be considered, possibly in the form of a college savings fund that sets money aside for a child's post-high school education. In some states, courts may award one spouse support from the other for the purpose of paying for college. In the courts, this is known as post-secondary, post-minority or college child support. However, it is important to know the laws that apply to your state, as not all have statutes that hold parents responsible for college support. Even in states without statutes, parents may ask a court to include provisions for college in a child support agreement.
In considering whether to award college support, the divorce court may consider several factors, as it would with other forms of child support. The court may require documentation of the incomes of each party, as well as any income or resources specific to the child. The court may also take into account the child's interest in college, career goals, academic history, and general aptitude. The educational level of each parent and that of any siblings or half-siblings the child has may also contribute to the court's decision.
If a regular child support order is still in force while a child attends college, the parent assuming the payment responsibility may ask the court to modify the child support based on the extra expenses of college. In states that do not require parents to pay for a child's college costs, parents have the right to negotiate this element of support in the larger child support agreement. Typically, the more specific the agreement, including what expenses are each parent's responsibility, the more useful the agreement is in avoiding conflict.
Such an agreement may also limit the support to a specific number of semesters and specify the price range of the colleges a child may attend. Any financial aid in the form of grants or scholarships should also be anticipated, and the award of such aid will likely play a factor in altering the agreement.
Of course, many parents opt to make their child partially responsible for their own education. A college support agreement may also dictate that the student be responsible for some portion of tuition, books, board, or other expenses, assuming grants or scholarships to cover these expenses are not received. Parents sometimes require that a child take a particular number of credit hours per semester and maintain a certain grade point average for the support payments to continue. In order to make such verification possible, provisions can often be made that grant each parent regular reports on the child's progress, grades, and course history, so long as a college child support agreement is in force.
College costs represent a significant financial burden on everyone. In a divorce case, work with your divorce lawyer to explore options for fairly distributing this expense among both parties. After all, the success of the child at college is something that all parties can likely agree upon.