Who pays for college after a divorce?
Most people going through a divorce understand the concept of child support and understand that it ends when a child becomes an adult. What many parents do not think about, however, is how they will pay for college for their child. In California, child support often ends when a child is 18 or, if they have not yet graduated from high school, it will end when the child graduates or turns 19, whichever happens first. But then what?
Creating a college plan
California courts do not make provisions for supporting adult children in a child support order. But parents of older children will tell you that expenses do not end when a child turns 18. Launching a young adult into the world is an expensive endeavor, and often includes some type of education after high school. If the courts do not enforce a plan to pay for higher education, you and your former spouse will need to create one on your own.
Hopefully, you will both agree on your educational goals for your child, but if not, your attorneys can help you negotiate an agreement. You may agree generally, but need to negotiate some specifics such as the type of school you can afford, covering room and board and the method of making payments.
Setting aside the money
Although the courts will not include college tuition in a child support order, they will allow you to include provisions for setting aside money in your divorce agreement for this purpose. There are a few ways you can do this, such as:
- Establishing a 529 savings plan – If your child is still young, you could consider creating one of these college funds through a broker. They have certain tax advantages, and you could both agree to either put a lump sum into the account or make payments up until they start college.
- Agree to share costs – You could make a detailed agreement for helping with college costs when your child starts school. Be as specific as possible regarding what type of costs you will cover and how much you think you can afford. This option may make the most sense if your child is already in college or will be soon.
- Set up a trust fund – Similar to a 529 plan, you can also create a trust fund for your child’s education and agree to fund it however the two of you see fit. The money will be protected and earmarked only for your child’s education.
No matter your child’s age, it is never too early to think ahead. If your divorce is already final and you did not address these issues in your divorce decree, you can still negotiate an agreement with your former spouse.