Who Pays for College During and After a Divorce?

What are parents' obligations for paying for their child's college education after a divorce? The answer is dependent upon the state in which the parents obtained their divorce. State law determines whether or not a parent has an obligation to contribute to a child's college education.

Currently, 27 states have laws or legal precedents that allow a court to order the non-custodial parent to contribute financially to the child's education. These laws, however, do not mandate that the court require the non-custodial parent to pay; and thus ordering a non-custodial parent to pay for an adult child's college education is discretionary on the part of the judge.

In those cases in which college expenses are awarded by the court, the court may order the parent to pay not only the educational costs of the child's college, but also the child's extra-curricular expenses and/or allowance, if the state law allows. Generally, the court will order the parent to pay for half of the college expenses. Courts in the state of Arizona do not generally order parents to pay for their children's college expenses. However, in Arizona, as in any state that allows its judges discretion in this area, certain exceptional situations may justify an order to pay for such expenses.

Three states currently do not allow courts to enter orders for college support for adult children unless there was already an agreement in place between the parents. Even in states that do not allow for a college support order, in some cases the child's college financial needs may be taken into account by the court when making a determination regarding whether to order the non-custodial parent to pay alimony to the custodial parent.

One way to make an advance determination regarding parental obligation to pay for the college education of a child is through a written college support agreement. In such an agreement, the parties should decide how much of the tuition or college expenses each party is required to pay, determine what is included in their definition of "college expenses," set any limits such as to the number of semesters that will be paid, the number of years the agreement will last, set any restrictions on the type of college the agreement covers, and designate if there are any requirements the child must fulfill for the parents to remain obligated.

If you have questions regarding college support agreements or parental obligation to support a child's education, please contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss your situation.