When your child gets that college acceptance letter, you’ll likely feel a jumble of emotions: joy, excitement, pride, even a little sadness. And if you’re divorced (or about to be), you may also experience another reaction—uncertainty about who is going to pay for this.
Your divorce judgment determines cost-sharing
If you’re already divorced, look to your judgment of divorce for answers about each parent’s responsibility for college. Unless the order specifically addresses college tuition and expenses, neither parent is obligated to pay for it. It is possible, however, to seek a modification to your divorce judgment if college is not discussed in it. In most states, courts can modify the judgment to order the non-custodial parent to contribute to college expenses.
Create a college support agreement
If you’re currently divorcing, negotiate a college support agreement that specifies each parent’s obligation for tuition, room and board, and other college-related expenses. It can specify a cap and the type of college whose costs will be covered (private or public, in-state or out-of-state, for example). Note that most states do not generally require parents to pay for college, but provision for higher education costs is a common element in a divorce settlement.
Put aside the money
It’s possible to get college funds set aside up front—in a trust or college savings account—at the time of the divorce, or at least to create a fund that one or both parents must contribute to in the years leading up to college admission. Keep in mind that college costs have gone up every year recently, and there’s no end in sight for this trend. So, you’ll need a realistic estimate of what the costs will be the year your child heads off to campus. You’ll also want to include a provision about what happens with the money if your child does not go to college.
As always, you’ll want to consult the laws in your home state to determine your, and your partner’s legal obligations. But with a little planning and negotiation, you can ensure that your child can afford a college education—and that your ex helps pay for it.