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Joseph R. Zoucha, Attorney & Counselor at Law

Divorcing couples must decide who will pay kids' college tuition

As you progress through your divorce, you'll quickly realize that there are a lot of minor and major issues for you and your spouse to deal with. For couples without children, divorce can be as simple as dividing up the marital property and going their separate ways. However, things may not be so simple for couples with children. Divorcing parents in California often must agree on where the child will live, how often the other parent will see the child, who will be responsible for making decisions relating to the child's upbringing, and determining who will pay for child-related expenses.

If college is in the future for your child, even if they are very young, it is important to keep in mind that you and your soon-to-be ex will have to decide who will pay for college in the future. Depending on where you live, you may be required by the court to address how the child's college will be paid for in your divorce agreement, addressing all college-related expenses such as tuition, book costs, and room and board. While the child's parents are not required to pay for college, they will need to agree on how much, if any, they will each put towards the child's education and where the money will come from (e.g. 529 plan). If you cannot agree, you can have the court decide for you. Parents should also consider what would happen to the money if your child does not attend college or decides to postpone college for a year or two.

Also, keep in mind that financial aid eligibility will often be based on the income of whichever parent is considered the custodial parent, or the parent the child lived with the most or provided the child with the most support over the past year. If the non-custodial parent owns the college saving plan, that may reduce your child's financial aid eligibility. Getting remarried may also affect your children's financial aid eligibility, as your new spouse's income could factor into financial aid determinations.

Studies have shown that children with divorced parents are less likely to go to college and graduate than those with married parents. Tension between the parents, and failing to learn the rules of financial aid, are a big reason for this. No matter how angry you are at your ex, it is important to always put the children's needs first, which includes addressing issues such as college. To avoid any miscommunications or legal headaches, those going through divorce should therefor ensure that issues like this are clearly addressed in their divorce agreement.

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