Do Divorced Parents Pay for College Expenses?

Must divorced parents pay for college expenses if it’s not laid out in the divorce decree? While the answer varies by state, in the State of Washington, the courts can force divorced parents to pay for college expenses as long as certain conditions are met. Ideally, parents will work out the details of future college support at the time of their divorce, when property and custody issues are being decided. However, even parents who did not consider college at the time of divorce can later renegotiate or ask the court to consider the matter.

While a post high school education is considered essential for most people, many states consider that the obligation to pay child support ends when the child graduates from high school or reaches age 19. The courts there have no power to enforce future support. Washington is one of a group of states that allows courts to allow child support orders to include payment for some college costs as part of the support order up to age 23.

Voluntary Agreements for College Support

At the time of divorce, some couples develop voluntary contractual agreements that spell out what is included in secondary education, the amount or percentage of the payments, the terms of payments, the child’s responsibilities, and the impact of financial aid.

The beauty of a voluntary agreement is that it puts both parents on a common course to educate their child. Even if the divorce happens when the child is 10, former spouses have a heads up to start saving for college, perhaps with a 529 account. Divorcing spouses with children close to college-age can save costly court battles by agreeing on how to manage college expenses.

Petitioning the Court for College Expenses

Most parents want the best life chances for their children, but for some divorced parents this concern does not equate to payment for college expenses. Without an agreement, the court takes a number of factors into account in considering whether noncustodial parents should have to contribute to college expenses:

  • What is the ability of each parent to contribute to postsecondary education?
  • Will the child receive scholarships or be able to work while in school?
  • What is the educational background of the parents?
  • What are the aspirations, abilities, and school performance of the child?

While there are a lot of factors that go into the court’s decisions, there are a few basic truths to keep in mind if you are considering petitioning the court for college expenses from your ex-spouse:

  • The court will not hold a parent responsible to provide postsecondary education for their children beyond their own financial means; in some financial circumstances, the court can decide that one parent does not need to contribute based on financial records that each provide.
  • The court discourages one parent making a unilateral decision to send the child to a costly school without the other parent having some say in the matter.
  • The court does try to encourage parents to willingly contribute what they can for college expenses.

When you have questions about how divorced parents pay for college expenses, the family lawyers at Weintraub Law Group can help you. Contact us for a free consultation today.