Who’s Footing the Bill? Paying for College When Parents are Divorced?
All parents want the best for their children, but a discussion as to whether college is affordable is common today in most families. What happens when parents divorce? Is one or both of the divorced parents responsible for paying for their child’s college education? How should those costs be divided among divorced parents or parents who have never been married?
Indiana law permits custodial parents to seek contribution from a non-custodial parent for the costs of a child’s college education. Courts will consider a number of factors to determine whether a non-custodial parent should contribute to their child's college funds including whether the parents would have contributed toward the college costs if they still lived together, the child’s aptitude and ability for college, the child’s ability to contribute toward college expenses through work or loans, the financial resources of the parents, and the relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent.
If your child desires a college education and is looking at college applications, now is the time to approach a non-custodial parent and discuss payment options. Topics that should be discussed are. whether a parent’s contribution should be limited to tuition, books and room and board? If the student wants to attend a more expensive private school, should the student bear the additional tuition costs? Should the parents impose any expectations or minimum grade point average requirements on the student as a condition for a parent’s continued support? Should parents continue to pay beyond a typical 4 year course load? What about other living expenses, such as cell phone charges, fraternity or sorority expenses, transportation, and other living costs on campus?
If parents are not able to agree on payment issues related to college, a parent must file a petition seeking contribution with the court timely. Under a recent amendment to the law, a custodial parent may be required to file a petition seeking college contribution on or before the child’s 19th birthday, or the parent will lose their ability to request those contributions.
Even if you do agree with the other parent on how to divide college expenses, it is important to file your agreement with the court, in case either party decides to revoke their informal agreement. If a parent refuses to follow an informal agreement and the child is over age 19, you will have missed your opportunity to seek contribution to college expenses moving forward under the new law.
College planning is an important decision for your family. It’s always best to consult with a lawyer as part of your planning process.