Divorce can be a time of great upheaval. Not only do you have to deal with a range of emotions, but you also have to figure out how to make sure the split doesn’t adversely affect your kids, both psychologically and materially.
Of all your child’s needs, education often takes the largest chunk, financially at least. So this begs the question: who pays the children’s tuition after a divorce? Higher education in particular, despite being almost an essential need, comes with a hefty price tag.
Based on what’s commonly known about child support, you might assume a parent shouldn’t be legally obligated to cover such costs for their adult children. State law, however, sings a different tune.
Massachusetts’ Child Support Laws
The 2017 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines allow for payment of child support until age 23. Once the child is 18, the payor is granted a 25% reduction in child support payments, but this only applies if the child has already completed high school. An 18-year-old in high school will be entitled to regular child support until they graduate.
The guidelines also put a cap on each parent’s college contribution, fixing it at 50% of the annual cost of tuition, room, board and fees at the University of Massachusetts.
Start Planning Early
In most states, the courts can’t make provisions for college fees if the child isn’t 18 yet. But college is seen as a rite of passage, and chances are your child will want to attend an institution of higher education. Usually, a divorce lawyer will include some clause in your divorce settlement that will address how college tuition fees will be split between both spouses.
Most attorneys would advise against agreeing to a certain percentage at the time of the divorce, especially if the child is still very young. With the rising costs of college and the general unpredictability of life, you might find yourself stuck with a college bill you legally have to pay but are unable to.
The exact amount each parent will cover is best calculated once a university is chosen, and by factoring in their incomes at that time. It’s easier for students to get financial aid if their parents have low incomes, so letting the lower-earning parent have primary custody could let your child take full advantage of college loans and grants.
Court or Out of Court?
Ideally, it would be better to handle it all out of court with your divorce lawyer or a mediator. Once you’ve analyzed your finances, you’ll be able to know how much you can comfortably contribute to your child’s college fund.
However, if the case ends up in court, the judge will determine each parent’s contribution by weighing a number of factors including;
- The financial resources of both parents
- The availability of financial aid
- The amount of money needed to cover college expenses
- The financial resources owned by the child, either individually or in trust
If the child owns assets or funds in a custodial account, chances are they’ll be used before either parent is expected to chip in. If the student works during breaks, the income they earn won’t be required to cover their tuition fees. However, if they work full time while also studying, the court will expect some of the income earned to be contributed to the college fund.
Get Legal Help
Are you sending a child off to college soon? Or do you want to know more about you and your ex-spouse’s obligations regarding a child that’s already in college? Contact the Law Office of Heather M. Ward at (617) 903-8955 today for a free consultation.