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College Costs for Children of Divorced Parents

College is an excellent option for young adults building towards successful careers. But for divorced parents of children who are pursuing post-secondary degrees, the law can create some muddled obligations and challenges.

In most jurisdictions, parents are not obligated to fund their children’s college educations or provide an education for them, in large part because children entering college are legal adults, being over the age of 18. However, child support payments and divorce orders can be extended in the state of Florida to cover children until the age of 21 if a court finds that it is appropriate to do so. Child support can certainly go towards funding children’s education. The result is that while a court is unlikely to be able to force married parents to fund a child’s college education, a court could potentially (albeit indirectly) require a parent to fund his or her child’s college education, with the only differentiating factor being that the child’s parents are not married.

Courts tend to support this legal oddity with the following rationale: parents who are still married, more than likely will come to some kind of an agreement that a college education for their shared children is a good way to go. This is a benefit bestowed upon children whose parents do not separate, and is lost for children of divorced parents. Because courts attempt to mitigate disadvantages for children of divorced (which can be seen through techniques like child support payments, designed to give children the financial support of two parents even if their particular parents no longer are together), it is deemed appropriate that divorced parents be persuaded in some way to participate in helping their children get a college education.

When actually enforcing court orders for parents to contribute to children’s education, courts sometimes impose conditions. For instance, the requirement for parents to help fund children’s education could be contingent on the child keeping a specified grade point average. Also, a court may define that which constitutes an educational expense. Not only tuition, but also books, living expenses, transit costs, and even cell phone charges could be determined to be educational expenses by a court.

For parents concerned about a potential requirement to pay for a child’s college education, they can take some solace knowing that a request for parents to fund a child’s college expenses must be entered prior to the child’s twenty-first birthday. Additionally, orders to pay these and other costs like child support can be modified by a court if necessary.

If you are a divorced parent of children, it is never too early to ensure that your wishes with regards to your children’s educational expenses will be respected. Consider contacting a qualified family law attorney to advocate for you in the drafting of your divorce agreement or, if your divorce has already been finalized, to review the agreement and argue for any necessary modifications. At Schwartz | White, our experienced Boca Raton divorce and family law attorneys are standing by. Call 561-391-9943 for a consultation today.

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