The well being of children is a major issue of concern during a divorce proceeding. Parties are often at odds over custody, visitation and child support for minor children. Another common issue though, is the matter of determining who takes on the financial responsibilities of a college aged child, one who is too old for custody disputes, but too young for independence. According to an article in Forbes Magazine, answering this question can be a challenging and complex process, further complicated by emotions and ill-feelings between the spouses. The potential for conflict can undermine the the importance of a child’s college education, making mediation a highly useful tool for settling this question.
In most states, child support obligations end when the child reaches the age of majority, which generally occurs between the ages of 18 and 21. This varies in some jurisdictions, depending on when the child finishes high school. Unless there are outstanding arrears due, payments to the custodial parent end, leaving non-custodial parents with no further financial obligations to the child. But, as anyone with a college student knows, the financial obligation of parenting is far from over when a child turns 18. Most college students cannot pursue their educations without some level of support from a parent.
What You Should Know
According to the Forbes article, there are several important issues that a divorcing parent must remember:
Parents are not legally obligated to pay for college, unless ordered by the court. There are no laws requiring either parent to pay college tuition or provide financial assistance to the college student in furtherance of his or her studies. Many divorcing parents are surprised to learn that their former spouse is not automatically forced to contribute to a child’s college education. It understandably seems unfair to the custodial parent, as well as the child, but this one of the harsh realities of divorce.
In Massachusetts, a judge can order a parent to pay for college. The court may look at various factors in making a determination, including the custody of all children and the income of each spouse. Debts and any previous payment arrangements may also be considered. If the judge makes a ruling about payment, it becomes a court order. The parent is required to pay and noncompliance is punishable by the courts.
A divorce settlement agreement is the best tool for addressing college tuition payments. No one can always predict what a judge will decide when presented with a divorce issue. For this reason, it is preferable for the parties to sit down together and mediate a mutually beneficial agreement about college tuition payments. A signed settlement agreement can also become an enforceable court order, once it is accepted by the judge.
Your child’s education is of great importance and its consideration deserves a serious, collaborative effort by both parties. There are no set rules for the settlement agreement. A couple can tailor the tuition payments in any way that is mutually comfortable. It can entail a lump sum payment in advance or a monthly payment obligation, similar to child support.
The Law Office of Martin Murphy LLC can assist you and your spouse in creating a collaborative separation agreement that includes college tuition payment terms. Call the office today at (781)285-8989 for a consultation.