January is Divorce Month

We recently addressed the issues that divorced parents face when they have a child who is gifted in some area, such as sports or the arts, and requires additional money for training and competition to pursue their passion. However, those expenses can pale in comparison to what it costs to send a child to college.

For married couples, the stress of how they're going to manage tuition, room and board and books can be overwhelming. For divorced couples, it can be even worse because they may find themselves in conflict over how college expenses will be split. This can lead to further conflict over which college your child can attend. One parent may want the child to pursue the dream of getting into Harvard, while the other wants to be more financially realistic and attend a state school.

The Importance of a College Support Agreement

Generally, there is no legal obligation for the parent paying child support to pay for college tuition. In most states, a judge can order the spouse to pay it, even if it wasn't mentioned in the documents. However, the best way to help ensure that your spouse will be paying his or her fair share of these expenses is to address it in your divorce agreement, even if your kids are still young.

Experts recommend that parents have a written college support agreement that's separate from the regular child support agreement. It can address issues like a cap on the amount a spouse is required to pay, a detail of what expenses are covered (such as perhaps just tuition and room and board). Of course, the cost of college is ever-increasing, so if your children are young when you divorce, this may need to be readdressed over the years, just as any child support agreement would.

Choosing the Best Way to Set Aside the Funds

The funds can be handled in a variety of ways. Sometimes they're put in a trust or escrow account or a college savings plan. Some parents opt to receive the money in an up-front lump-sum payment when the divorce is settled (if the co-parent has sufficient asset) and invest it until the child needs them.

A divorce financial planner can help you determine which payment option is best for your particular situation. Your family law attorney can likely recommend an experienced financial planner to help you with this and other significant financial decisions you'll need to make during your divorce.