If you are the parent of college-bound children and are also headed for divorce court, you need to address in your divorce judgment how the kids’ college expenses will be divided between you and their other parent.
It’s worth noting that no parent “owes” their child a fully- or even partially-funded college education. Still, many parents who are in a position to assist their kids with these considerable expenses choose to do so to relieve them of graduating with significant debts from student loans.
Read on to learn what you can do to help your kids pay for their college expenses after divorce.
Discuss the matter thoroughly with your soon-to-be ex-spouse
Now is the time to be frank about assistance to which you are willing and able to commit. You will need to include very specific language, percentages and figures in your final divorce decree to make this enforceable in the future.
Make sure your child is eligible for maximum financial aid
If your child will rely on full or partial financial aid, e.g., grants and loans, to fund their education, the parent who earns the least should be granted primary custody of the child in the calendar year before they apply for any financial aid.
Agree to cooperate with future financial disclosures
If you divorce when the kids are still in middle school, you may sorely resent the idea of sharing your financial circumstances with your ex eight or 10 years down the line when the kids are applying for college. But that is what you will need to do for the kids to qualify for any financial aid.
Delineate which parent will pay for what expenses
Will you and your ex divide college expenses down the middle or will you pay for room and board if your ex shoulders the tuition bill? What, exactly, qualifies as “college expenses?” If your child opts out of a dorm to share an apartment with friends, who will be on the hook for their rent? Who will pay for airline or train tickets to get the kids to and from school on vacations and breaks? What about a car? Don’t be afraid to get really granular to cover all contingencies.
Include related expenses when necessary
Is your child planning on a career in the legal or medical fields? Are you and your ex willing to cover the cost of LSAT or MCAT exams to enter law school or med school? What about college admission exams and the costs associated with visiting different colleges? Hash all this out and include your decisions in the decree.
Put a reasonable cap on your assistance
Not all kids matriculate at the same pace through their college years. You don’t want to enable them to become slackers. You can put a yearly cap on the expenses each parent will pay for a lifetime cap of semesters. If your child is lagging behind a bit, this doesn’t mean that you still can’t assist them, just that you will no longer be legally obligated to do so. You could also make your financial assistance contingent upon your kids maintaining a certain grade point average.
Cover your bets with insurance
What will happen if your child’s other parent dies or you become disabled and can no longer work? Take out a life insurance policy and disability insurance that will cover your kids’ college-related expenses to avoid leaving them hanging if disaster strikes.