Financial Planning for College

This time of year graduation celebrations are at the top of mind for many families. It is also time to address the financial responsibility of your graduate’s higher education. As costs rise, it is common for custodial parents to ask for financial help from noncustodial parents to help their students pay for college expenses.

States are divided on whether courts can order child support to cover college costs after a child reaches the age of majority. In certain states a court will require divorced parents to help pay for their child’s college education, but some states do not allow courts to order such support.

For example, laws in California end a parent’s legal obligation to pay child support when an 18-year-old child completes high school or turns 19. In New Hampshire the law is even more specific. It says child support orders cannot require a parent to pay an adult child’s college expenses.

One third of the states in the US have laws, or case law, giving courts the power to order divorced parents to pay college expenses. This includes New Jersey and New York. Both states have passed laws to allow child support orders to cover at least some higher education for their children.

When states allow child support awards for college costs, courts take several factors into consideration. Determining whether the non-custodial parents should contribute to their child’s expenses will depend on factors like:

  • The financial resources of the child and both parents
  • The availability of financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants and loans
  • The child’s ability to earn income while in school
  • Whether the parents would have contributed toward the college costs if they still lived together
  • The child’s particular interests, academic achievements and goals
  • The relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent, including the child’s responsiveness to advice and guidance
  • The level of post-high school education of both parents, and whether the parents would have expected the child to go to college if they still lived together

Divorce is a complicated situation. Unfortunately the formula for determining parental responsibility for higher education isn’t any easier. An exact formula for determining expenses does not exist, but the amount is usually based on parent’s ability to financially contribute. Some states do have established guidelines outlining the payment of college expenses. That means the amount of the award is often up to the discretion of the court.

Your Family Law attorney can help you understand the financial responsibilities of both parents. The attorneys at the law office of Giro Attorneys at Law are here to help you when it is time to plan for your child’s higher education.


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