Over the past twenty years, our team of advisors has built literally hundreds of financial plans for our clients. At any given time, we’re in the process of crafting a dozen or more new ones.

Many of these plans are for married couples, but a significant number are for single parents, who have either never been formally married, or have divorced.

Most parents worry about their ability to cover higher education costs for their children. Over the past several decades, the cost of college has risen significantly faster than the overall rate of inflation. Paying for college becomes even more complicated when parents get divorced. While married or single parents can choose to contribute to the cost of their child’s education, the situation can be different for divorced parents who are party to a court order or the provisions of a settlement agreement. For divorced parents, the issue is not just how to pay for college, but who will pay.

When parents get divorced, or have children outside of marriage, the non-custodial parent is obligated to help meet the child’s financial needs by paying child support. But what about children who have reached the age of majority and are in college? Are non-custodial parents obligated to help pay for tuition, room and board, and other related costs?

Generally speaking, most questions about education costs are addressed during the divorce process itself, along with other child support issues. However, when there is no agreement in place, the obligation of divorced parents to pay for their child’s college expenses will depend on state law.

Some states require divorced parents to pay for college-related expenses (reasoning that a child’s education shouldn’t be adversely impacted by the parents’ divorce), while others view these as conditional expenses and don’t require payments or reimbursements for college costs.

Divorced parents who don’t have an agreement in place can try to work out an agreement when the child is ready to attend college, or they can take the matter to court. Depending on the laws of their state of residency, a judge will evaluate each parent’s education level, available assets and income to determine if one or both parents must contribute.

Talking about finances can be a challenge for any couple, and it can be particularly difficult for those who are contemplating – or are going through – a divorce. Nevertheless, it’s essential to discuss your child’s education and come to an agreement that makes the most sense for your family. Starting this conversation as soon as possible can make planning and saving for college easier.

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