Should You Include College in Your Parenting Plan?

Depending on how old your children are, college can seem a very long way off or just around the corner. If your children are very small when you split from their other parent, you may wonder if it's even necessary to worry about college expenses when developing your parenting plan and/or divorce settlement. However, whether your children are teenagers already applying to college or just entering preschool, it's wise to consider how you and your ex will handle college expenses in the future.

Does Your Ex Have to Pay Child Support through College?

In California, the law is pretty clear: there is no legal requirement for parents to continue paying child support once their child turns 18, or 19 if they're still attending high school full-time. This means that, as a general rule, your ex is not legally bound to pay child support through your child's college years.

The exception to this rule is if there is a mutual agreement between both parents. If you and your ex-spouse agree to extend child support payments to cover college expenses, this agreement can be made legally binding by incorporating it into the court's order. However, without this mutual agreement, there is no legal obligation for either parent to pay for college expenses.

What About College Expenses?

While child support payments typically end when the child reaches the age of majority, the question of who pays for college is a separate issue. As per California law, there is no obligation for parents to help with college expenses for a child who is age 18 or older, unless the child is disabled or incapacitated.

However, some parents choose to include provisions about college expenses in their divorce settlement. This could include things like tuition fees, living expenses, books, and other related costs. But remember, this is a voluntary agreement, not a legal requirement.

What Are My Options to Plan for College Expenses with My Ex?

Navigating the financial complexities of divorce is challenging, and planning for your child's college expenses can add another layer of complexity. However, having a clear plan can help alleviate some of the stress and confusion.

Here are some options for parents to consider:

Create a Written Plan During Divorce Proceedings

One of the most proactive steps you can take is to address college expenses during your divorce proceedings. This involves creating a written plan that outlines how tuition payments will be managed. Every family's dynamic is different, so the plan should be customized to fit your situation.

Split Expenses According to Income

One common approach is to split college expenses proportionally according to each parent's income. For example, if one parent makes 70% of the combined income, they would be responsible for 70% of the college expenses.

Use a Dedicated College Savings Account

Setting up a dedicated college savings account like a 529 plan can be beneficial. Both parents can contribute to this fund over time, and the money can be used tax-free for qualifying educational expenses.

Establish a Trust

Another option is to create a trust fund that can be used for college expenses. Both parents can contribute to the fund and have control over how the money is spent. This could be beneficial if the parents aren't comfortable entrusting the funds directly to their child.

Share Responsibility for Financial Aid Applications

The process of applying for financial aid and scholarships can be complex and time-consuming. As part of your plan, consider outlining who will be responsible for completing these applications, or how the responsibility will be shared.

Consider Direct Payments

Some parents opt for a system where payments for college tuition and other expenses are made directly to the institution, from one ex-spouse to another, or the student. This can help keep track of payments and ensure that funds are being used as intended.

Establish Limitations or Conditions

If you and your ex-spouse decide to split college expenses, it's important to clearly outline the limitations or conditions of this agreement. For example, parents may agree that each will contribute a certain amount per year for tuition fees. Or, if one parent is paying for living expenses or other costs, they may require that the student maintain a certain GPA.

Involve a Legal Professional

Making sure your parenting plan covers all the bases is essential. A family law attorney can help you create a comprehensive agreement that addresses both child support payments and college expenses, so you can rest assured that your children’s future is secure.

It's never too early to begin planning for college expenses in your parenting plan. While it may seem daunting at first, there are a variety of options available to help you and your ex-spouse create a plan that works for you and your children. Working with a legal professional can ensure that all bases are covered, so everyone's interests are protected in the long run.

Remember, communication is key in this process. Discussing the complexities of who pays for college during a divorce may be stressful, but all parties can benefit from planning ahead. Always consult with your attorney about the legal implications of any agreement related to college expenses.

At Palmer Rodak & Associates, our experienced family law attorneys understand the complexities of divorce and can help you create a well-rounded plan for your children’s future. We are committed to providing families with quality legal representation and will work to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the whole process.

If you are wondering how you can incorporate college expenses into your parenting plan, contact us online or call us at (760) 573-2223 to discuss your case.