Payment of College Expenses Following Divorce

Under California law, both parents are obligated to financially support their children until they reach the age of 18, or until they graduate if they are still 18 and in high school, whichever happens later. Except in cases of disability, California law does not contain provisions for adult child support, but as many parents know, adult children often have significant expenses they need help paying for. The most significant is typically the cost of college. Because child support terminates after a child reaches 18 (or graduates), child support will not cover tuition, room and board, books, and other college-related expenses in the large majority of cases.

Determining how (or if) you are going to pay for your child’s college education is hard enough for parents who are still married to one another. For those who are divorced, the decision is often even more complicated. Child support for a minor child is a financial matter, obviously, but the law sees child support as an entitlement belonging to the child—an entitlement that cannot be waived by either parent following a divorce. However, once the child is no longer a minor and is college-age, parents do not have a legal obligation to pay for their adult children to go to college. However, many parents do pay, and in a divorce it is understandable for each parent to want the other’s commitment to contribute to the costs of their adult children’s education. As with most other aspects of divorce, parties have a significant degree of flexibility when it comes to addressing the issue of their adult children’s college expenses.

One option that the parties may use to address the issue of their adult children’s college costs is to negotiate an agreement as part of their overall divorce settlement. Similar to an agreement regarding spousal support (or any other divorce issues), an agreement regarding college expenses should be clear on all of the key financial aspects as well as any limitations or conditions involved. For example, some considerations may include:

  • The current and anticipated financial resources of each parent, including their retirement savings;
  • The current and anticipated needs of each parent, including their needs in retirement;
  • The type of college or university that the adult child will be attending, including tuition and other costs;
  • The current and anticipated financial resources of the adult child, including available grants and scholarships; and/or
  • The standard of living that the adult child would have had if the divorce had not occurred.

Such considerations help to have a full understanding of each parent’s financial situation following the divorce and to ensure that any contributions agreed upon make financial sense for all involved.

Alternatively, the parties may want to consider setting aside funds in a trust or escrow account for their children’s college expenses. While somewhat similar to reaching an agreement as part of the divorce settlement, a trust fund or escrow account can provide greater protection against one spouse breaking the agreement in the future by specifically setting aside funds that the parties currently have available to ensure that future college expenses are paid.

Absent an agreement to pay for college expenses between the parties, there is no requirement to pay for college for an adult child. If you are going through a dissolution or are planning to be, and have concerns about college expenses for adult children, it is important that you seek advice from knowledgeable attorneys. At Argyris Mah, LLP, our experienced and skilled attorneys will help guide you through the process and come up with a plan tailored to your individual situation and needs.

 

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