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Who pays for the kids’ college when parents divorce?

On Behalf of | Jul 7, 2020 | Uncategorized |

If you are a California parent of college-bound children and you are preparing to divorce, one thing that you need to address is how the children’s educational costs will be covered. There is nothing in the California statutes that require parents to cover their children’s post-secondary education costs, but if they have the means to pay, many parents choose to cover or contribute to the expenses.

However, failing to address the matter in your divorce negotiations only opens you up to acrimony later. You will either have to hound your ex-spouse to contribute, pay the full freight yourself or tell your kids that they will need to incur debt from student loans to matriculate at an institute of higher learning.

Determine who will pay what expense

You and your spouse need to hash out which college expenses each of you will assume and whether your child(ren) will be expected to contribute. Don’t be afraid to get too granular with this. There is a lot to consider. For example, who will pay for:

  • The actual tuition
  • Books, laptops, lab fees and other associated costs
  • Dorm fees and meal plans
  • Costs associated with sororities or fraternities
  • Related expenses such as transportation to and from school, e.g., will your child have their own car to travel back and forth on school vacations or will they need train or plane fare?

Include all details in the divorce judgment

Basically, if it’s not in there, it doesn’t count. Courts can uphold verbal agreements but it is much more challenging than simply covering it in the first place. Save yourself (and your ex) the hassle of revisiting the matter a few years hence and spell it all out in black and white.

Establish a time limit

Some kids take the fast track in college and are awarded degrees in fewer than four years. Others may take a more leisurely route to obtain their undergrad degrees, especially when mom and dad are footing the bill. Be very clear with your kids if you choose to set four-year limits on the parental gravy train so there are no unclear expectations.

Where will the money come from?

Establish whether a lump sum payment will be set aside for higher education expenses or whether each parent will make incremental payments over the years. Use 529 Plans or trust accounts to dodge excess taxes. You may need to loop in your financial planner(s) on these discussions.

Also, address what will happen should one parent die or become disabled and unable to continue working. Include in your order a requirement that each paying parent take out a disability and life insurance policy sufficient to cover the kids’ educational expenses if needed.

By working closely with your Pleasanton family law attorney, you can ensure that all bases are covered and your children’s educational future is secure.


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John T. Chamberlin, Attorney at Law
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