Written by attorney Wendy S. Alton

Making College Expenses a Priority after Divorce

According to a recent study, divorced parents contribute a significant amount less toward college for their children than parents that remain married. The study was discussed in a Washington Post article, and revealed that divorced parents spend nearly 1/3 less on college expenses than married parents. Obviously this is a huge difference and disadvantage to children of divorce. What can you do as a divorced parent to ensure that college expenses remain a priority?

First, to clarify, Michigan does not require a divorcing couple to have an agreement about college tuition or expenses. In fact, Michigan courts can only make or enforce decisions about your child until the child is 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later. Thus, college expenses are frequently not addressed in a divorce, especially when the children of the divorcing couple are very young.

However, there are a number of things you can include in your divorce to help pay for college expenses. Of course you and your spouse will have to agree, because absent an agreement, the court will not force you to do it. Some ideas are as follows:

  • You can agree as parents to equally share the college expenses incurred by your children, or share them on a percentage basis.
  • You can agree to each contribute to a college fund that is held in trust for the children.
  • You can formulate an agreement that has one parent paying tuition costs, while the other parent pays books, boarding, etc.

What is especially important, though, in formulating such an agreement to pay college expenses, is to define what college expenses will be paid, particularly:

  • Will you pay for in-state or out-of-state tuition?
  • Will you only pay if their grade point remains passing or above a certain grade?
  • Will you require the student to obtain loans/grants/scholarships first?
  • Is this for undergraduate only or post-graduate work?

The lesson is that if college for your children is important to you as you are divorcing, try to work out an agreement with your spouse to make it a priority. Be careful to negotiate exactly what each parent is prepared to provide, and what expectations are required. Also, you must have an attorney review such an agreement, because once it is signed, absent an agreement to change it, the agreement is binding and not subject to modification.

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