Does Your Divorce Settlement Cover College Tuition?

By Brett Snider, Esq. on March 12, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

College tuition may comprise a large chunk of your divorce settlement, but it shouldn't be unexpected.

It was a bit of a surprise for one New Jersey father who was ordered to pay half of his daughter's Cornell Law School tuition -- a whopping $112,500.

What settlement language should divorcing spouses focus on when considering future tuition obligations?

Child Support for 18+

Although the term "child support" may be misleading, divorce settlements can guarantee support for children of divorcing spouses well into their 20s. Depending on the terms of your child support agreement -- which is often negotiated as part of a divorce settlement -- child support might continue after a child turns 18.

In many instances, child support obligations to adult children are governed by state law. But it may also come down to the specific terms of an ex-spouse's divorce settlement agreement. If your agreement outlines specific parental obligations for a child if he or she chooses to attend college, you will likely be held to those terms.

You can, of course, attempt to modify your existing child support agreement once a child turns 18 or decides to attend college or graduate school. But absent any major changes in your child support agreement, you may still owe child support toward an adult child in college or grad school.

Paying for or Choosing Schools

Depending on the specific terms of your child support order and/or divorce settlement agreement, you may have control over whether your child goes to an expensive out-of-state school. Married couples often disagree on this topic, so it isn't any surprise that ex-spouses might come apart when deciding which school is appropriate for their children.

Much of the guesswork can be avoided if the divorce settlement or child support order contains specific provisions regarding:

  • How much tuition each spouse is responsible for;
  • Who has the final say in deciding which school to attend;
  • Payment obligations for living on- or off-campus; and
  • Meal plans, books, and other class-related expenses.

If these areas are left unexplored, it may be left to a family court judge to delve into each spouse's expectations and the child's best interests to determine college choice and how much tuition is owed by a parent.

Consulting an experienced child support attorney can help remove many of these if's and maybe's about whether your divorce settlement covers college tuition.

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