July 16, 2019

Divorcing, who pay for college?

Do parents have a legal obligation to pay for college for their child?  When the parents are married, they don’t.  But when the parents are divorcing, the divorce laws demand that the parents consider paying those expenses and sometimes imposes an obligation to pay those expenses.

Where the judge determines it is more likely than not that divorcing parents would have paid college or post-high school vocational school expenses if they had remained married, then the judge can make an educational support order obligating the parents to pay.  The law says that the judge must consider the parent’s income and other obligations (including to other dependents), the child’s needs, own assets and earning capacity and other factors specified in the law.  The parents have the right to present evidence on all those factors. 

Although the judge has broad discretion, there are limits.  An educational support order cannot be made unless the child is younger than 23 and it cannot require payments beyond that age.  The amount to be paid is capped at the cost of tuition, room and board, books and other fees at the University of Connecticut for a full time in-state student when the child enrolls.

So that money is not wasted, the payments can be suspended if the child is not at least a half-time student in an accredited school pursuing a course of study appropriate to the child.  The child must be in good academic standing and give the parents access to all academic records.

Some judges will not grant the divorce unless the parents have agreed to an educational support order.  Others will not grant the divorce unless the parents agree to deal with college expenses later and are subject to a court order if they aren’t able to do so.  It is also possible for the parents to agree that neither should be obligated to pay.  In these situations, while the court usually honors the agreement of the parents, to protect the child, occasionally the court may not. 

The divorcing parents have the power to determine how to handle college expenses.  Although their agreement is subject to court approval, courts are deferential to the agreement of the parents.  If they don’t have an agreement, a judge will make the decision.  Divorcing parents owe it to themselves and their children to work toward the best result they together can achieve.  The judge, no matter how careful and conscientious, cannot make a better decision that reflects the needs and wishes of the parents, than they could make themselves through careful analysis and negotiation with the assistance of an experienced attorney. 

Thanks to JR Media Group for first publishing this article in the July 4, 2019 edition of the Cheshire Citizen. 

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