If you are divorcing and have a child under the age of 23, you need to think about how to pay for your child’s college costs and then address the obligations of each parent in your final divorce decree.  Why?  Because if you don’t, a State of Connecticut Superior Court judge will.  And by the way, even if you’ve never married your child’s other parent, the court can order one or both of you to contribute to college costs.

Historically, whether a parent will pay for his or her child’s college expenses or how much he or she will pay has been a high conflict topic in many divorces.  Conflict around college costs is natural and understandable.  Of course educational expenses relate to money – the availability of the family to contribute to college costs, the unknown about whether a parent will be financially able to pay in the future, perhaps many years in the future.  But parenting and cultural practices, which can differ greatly from family to family or even parent to parent, are just as relevant as pure money considerations.  Did a divorcing parent parents pay or did he work full time and go to school at night?  Will the child be the first in the family to attend college or is a college education expected?

Until 2002, except in rare instances, the family court had no ability to address this issue whether before, at the time of or after the parents divorced.

But effective October 1, 2002, Connecticut, following the lead of several other progressive states, enacted the educational support order law.  The law doesn’t automatically require all divorcing parents to pay for their child’s post-high school educational expenses.  (Note that vocational school as well as college is covered by the law.)  What it does though is:

  • Makes sure that parents and the court at least consider the issue before a divorce can be finalized, and
  • Gives the family court judge the authority to order one or both parents to contribute to college expenses or post high-school vocational school expenses if certain conditions are met.

Some divorcing people think it is unfair that the State of Connecticut can force them to contribute to college expenses simply because they are divorcing.  Some lawyers feel that the educational support law added to the conflict that already existed before the law went into effect.

Rather than looking back, I tend to look forward.  The law is here.  My job as a divorce lawyer or mediator is to educate my clients about the educational support law, work with them to create and evaluate options, and help my clients make good decisions for themselves and their kids in light of all the circumstances.

The take away —  If you have kids under the age of 23 and are considering divorce or ending your relationship with your child’s other parent, talk to an experienced family lawyer early so that you can make smart choices for yourself and your family.  Don’t leave this important decision to a judge.