Property division now; division of college tuition bills later

Children from divorced parents face a number of challenges when their parents split. In fact, in addition to property division, most divorcing couples in Massachusetts spend time working out issues concerning their children. How custody will be divided, what child support is appropriate, even where the kids will spend holidays. However, many divorcing parents neglect to plan for their kids’ college educations, which can lead to frustration, argument and disappointment down the road.

The US News and World Report cites the cost of a college education as $35,000 and above at a private school, and $20,000 or above at a public school. And those are current numbers; kids who are young will likely face higher costs when they are ready to start college.

The cost of a college education is difficult for most families to manage, and when the parents are divorced, some students find themselves unable to attend at all.

In one unusual case, a college student sued her father when he failed to pay her tuition. Suspecting her dad might not follow through on his promise to pay for college, she had him sign a contract specifying that he agree to pay for her education until she was 25, as long as she made a serious effort to apply for scholarships and financial aid. When he stopped paying during her senior year, she took him to court. The judge ruled in her favor, awarding her a $47,000 judgment plus attorney fees.

The case made national headlines, but the majority of children who find themselves stuck in between sparring parents will not turn to the courts; they will simply have to wait and see how things work out between mom and dad.

Still, there are some who say the student who successfully sued her father may have set a legal precedent for how college expenses are handled in divorce cases.

Massachusetts couples considering or going through a divorce would be well advised to address which party is going to pay what portion of future college expenses. In much the same way that property division requires careful negotiation, the ins and outs of financing college education calls for the same level of attention. Working out the details ahead of time can prevent contention when the college bills start rolling in, and allow parents to focus on their child’s achievements as they enter adulthood.

Source:, “Cost Of College A Burden For Children Of Divorce,” June 19, 2012

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