Most parents of teenagers who are heading off to college are wondering how they will afford the high cost associated with a college education. For divorcing parents, this question may have even far greater implications, as the parents who are no longer a couple may wonder who will become responsible to foot the bill, and whether child support payments can cover such an expense.
Generally speaking, child support payments end between a child's 18th and 21st birthday, depending on the state. Once a child support obligation ends, is there any obligation to continue supporting a child through the college years?
The answer is not a simple one and the law varies from state to state. This means that divorcing parents in California who have teens who are expecting to go to college may want to consider the expense of paying tuition as part of their divorce settlement. This is because unless one party is ordered to pay for college by a court of law, then there is typically no legal obligation to do so. However, including this obligation as part of a divorce settlement can make things more clear.
Such issues that should be addressed during the divorce negotiations are:
- How will college expenses be paid?
- Who will pay the bill?
- Should the financial responsibility be limited for either party?
- Should funds for college be placed in a trust or in escrow so that the money is safe and secure for when the time comes?
In most states, even if the child's education is not part of the divorce settlement, a court can order a non-custodial parent to help pay for college, over and above amounts ordered for alimony and child support. This is because family courts generally understand the need for help in paying for a college education.
Source: Forbes, "Who Pays for College Tuition? Top Factors for Divorcing Women to Consider," Jeff Landers, Jan. 24, 2012