Who Pays for College? – Child Support in the Adult Years

College expenses remain a particularly contentious hurdle for divorcing parents, particularly now that the cost of higher education has soared.

Some parents believe that paying for college is their duty only when he or she voluntarily assumes it, but today a consensus has formed that a college degree is essential for a chance at a middle-class living.

College expenses remain a major concern when negotiating a divorce settlement because the cost of higher education is very difficulty to anticipate. In many, if not most cases, divorcing parents negotiate a settlement agreement (and child support) years before the child begins college. “Most states recognize the fact that it is hard to be specific about costs when negotiating the future college expenses of a four or five year old. Luckily, courts are enforcing such settlement agreements even when the language is vague,” writes one divorce observer. Because of this, courts enforce “reasonable” agreements.

An agreement about payment of college costs protects the children because, “[t]here is no serious doubt that…divorced parents regularly provide significantly less support to their children in college than do parents in an intact family.”

Some states view college costs as a form of child support, but more than 30 of the 51 jurisdictions have “no statute or case law holding a parent to duty” to provide a college education for the their children. Divorcing spouses who do not live in a jurisdiction requiring parents to help with college expenses should consider making it a part of the settlement negotiations.

Most courts recognize the importance of a college education, so they allow the terms and conditions of payment to be included in settlement negotiations. As long as the supporting language of the agreement is strong and the expected costs to a parent are not excessive, courts enforce the agreements.

You can learn more about college expenses and child support here.

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