Paying For College For Children of Divorce

June 22, 2014

With graduation season in full swing, many parents are thinking about college.  For parents going through a divorce, the question becomes a matter of who is going to pay for college.

In Virginia, child support ends when the child turns 18; or if the child is still attending high school and living with the custodial parent, until graduation or upon turning 19 (whichever comes first).  In another words, the child support obligation does not extend to college tuition.

Therefore, it’s wise to think about including a provision for college expenses in your settlement agreement if you have children.  If your children are in high school, the prospect of college is near enough to where you should be able to estimate the cost.  If you have young children, you cannot be sure how your financial situation will change in the future.  However, it’s still wise to negotiate with the other parent and come up with a stated portion of the expenses for each parent.

If you include the payment of college expenses in your separation agreement, and the separation agreement becomes part of the divorce decree, it is fully enforceable by the court.  If your spouse isn’t following the agreement and refuses to pay his or her part of the college expenses, you can go to the court to seek a remedy.

In the District of Columbia, child support continues until the age of 21.  This becomes tricky though – because college expenses are not included when running the guidelines for child support.  So although the custodial parent may be receiving child support for the child until the age of 21, the monetary amount probably won’t come close to paying a fair share of the minor child’s college expenses.

Thus, even in the District of Columbia, divorcing parties should include college expenses in their separation agreement.  Also in D.C., if your agreement is part of the divorce decree, you can go to the court to request enforcement.

It’s important to talk with your ex-spouse and children about expectations regarding college.  If you can negotiate an agreement about college expenses with your ex-spouse, you should make sure the terms are clearly defined so no one has questions or disputes down the road.

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