Handling The Costs of College

Regardless of the age of the child, costs associated with attending college should be addressed during your divorce process. While it may seem years in the future, a solid plan on how those costs are going to be handled and even what type of college or university your child can attend can provide guidance and structure to a complicated process. Typically, college costs are handled independently of child support issues. Based on several financial factors, parents may decide to share higher educational expenses proportionate to salaries, or one parent may take a majority – it varies from divorce to divorce.

The largest expenses associated with attending college or a university are tuition, dorm room, and a meal plan. You can also include a plan to pay for books, laptops, transportation, spending money, toiletries, entertainment, spring break, and activity fees. Parents should set a realistic budget and present it to the court as part of their child support plans.

If parents cannot agree on the expenses, then the court will make those decisions for you. Based on case law of Newburgh v. Arrigo, the courts have a set of factors with the theme that it is a parent’s responsibility to support their child’s launch into adulthood through education and training in preparation for a career.

Once it is determined that a child has the ability and inclination to attend and succeed in college, parents are generally required to contribute and a court can compel a parent to meet that financial obligation. While there is no set formula to determine a parent’s contribution, the following twelve (12) factors are considered.

  1. Whether the parent if still living with the child would have voluntarily contributed to the cost of the requested higher education;
  2. The effect of the background, values, and goals of the parent and the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education;
  3. The amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of the higher education;
  4. The ability of the parent to pay the cost;
  5. The relationship of the requested contribution to the choice of the school and course of study sought by the child;
  6. The financial resources of both parents;
  7. The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education;
  8. The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust;
  9. The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation;
  10. The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans;
  11. The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals, as well as the child’s responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and
  12. The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and the overall long-range goals of the child.

Once it is determined that a parent must contribute, the court will determine a dollar amount. Typically, they will take into account all other sources of financial support. This may include any available college savings, financial aid packages offered to the student (scholarships, loans, grants, fellowships, work-study programs), the other parent’s ability to pay and any fair contribution the student himself may be able to afford. As stated, the type of institution of higher education plays an insurmountable role in the expenses incurred. Looking at in-state tution vs. private institution vs. community college can yield wildly different outcomes to a the contribution of each parent. It is important to evaluate all options weighing a child’s long-range career goals and the realistic financial situations of all parties involved. It is of utmost important for your rights to be equally and fairly represented when determining your contributions to the exorbitant costs of higher education for your children.

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