Are you legally required to pay for your child’s college tuition? If you refuse to do so, can your child receive more financial aid? Can you compel your former spouse to pay for college if she makes more money than you or remarries? These are all questions that you may be asking even before your children go off to college. While you are determining your financial obligations through your divorce settlement, it may be a good idea to address the idea of future contributions to higher education.
Here are some facts about the law and some options for paying for children’s college tuition.
- California has been relatively reserved in its requirements to force parents to pay for college tuition. Other states may have different laws. For example, in New Jersey it is much more likely that a parent can be forced to pay for a child’s college tuition. For the most part, paying for college in California is voluntary.
- Even if your payment of tuition is voluntary, it helps to put these terms into your divorce settlement agreement, as this can help a judge understand how much you are paying. This may be useful if your ex ever petitions for an increase in child support.
- Establish a college savings account. Many convey tax benefits and it is much easier to keep your payments regular if you have withdrawals set up to go into a specific account. Further, some college savings accounts allow you to take advantage of locked-in tuition rates.
- Just as you cannot be forced to pay for college tuition, your ex cannot be forced to do so, either. However, it is perfectly acceptable to ask your ex to agree to put into the divorce settlement an agreement to pay a certain percentage of college expenses. While you cannot force the issue, you may be able to secure a written promise to pay which may then be enforced at a later time.
- Make a college “budget” with your child. As soon as your child is old enough to begin planning for college, sit down and discuss the financial issues honestly. If you can only afford to put a certain amount into college, let the child know so that he or she can scale expectations to that amount. School is expensive, so scholarships, loans and jobs may be necessary to meet even modest educational goals.
If you need help with child support issues, contact the attorneys at Men’s Legal Center.