When parents divorce, one of the key issues to be determined is whether one parent will pay child support to the other. Usually, child support is paid by the non-custodial parent to the parent with primary custody.

Most parents are focused on supporting children while they're still living at home -- or at least until they graduate from high school or turn 18. However, for parents who plan for their children to attend college, it's wise to address who will pay for all or part of their tuition, room and board, and other costs.

States Vary Significantly on College Support for Divorced Parents

Many states leave the issue of college costs or any support of a child who has reached 18 up to the parents to decide. However, some states allow courts to mandate such support agreements or at least enforce agreements that the parents have put in place.

For example, Massachusetts courts can order parents to provide college support until a young person is 23 years old. Missouri mandates child support for as long as kids are in college or turn 22 (whichever occurs first). In Washington, a court can order parents to pay college support. The money for that support is paid either to the school or directly to the student.

Even if your children are very young, it's wise to find out what the state laws say regarding support for them once they turn 18 (or whatever the age of majority is in your state). You should do that whether you believe they'll continue their education in some manner past high school or not and whether you plan to help them financially.

What Factors Are Considered in Determining Support?

If college support can be court ordered, find out what factors judges will consider to determine how much you will be ordered to pay and how that support will be divided between you and your co-parent. If you and your spouse work out a post-secondary education support agreement on your own, you'll likely look at factors such as your own financial situations and your child's aptitudes and wishes. Of course, any support agreement, whether negotiated by the parents or ordered by a judge, can be amended if circumstances change as the child grows up.

Negotiating child support for the immediate future is challenging enough. Expanding that support to include your child's college education or continued financial assistance for other purposes (for example, for a child with special needs) can be particularly difficult. Your family law attorney can provide essential guidance to help you do what's in your child's current and future best interests.