As a divorced parent with children seeking a higher education, you may have concerns regarding who will be funding and how to save for your child’s tuition. In North Carolina, child support guidelines do not take into consideration college and university expenses. This is because child support accountability ends as soon as the child turns 18 or graduates from high school (up until age 20), whichever occurs last. Many people now decide to earn professional degrees, which can make an agreement between former spouses difficult when determining who foots the bill.
Because NC judges do not have the authority to order someone to continue paying child support or tuition after the child is age 18, you are going to want to take early measures to make decisions about your child’s post-high school education.
There are several ways you can go about ensuring that it is financially feasible for your child to go to college:
- Include a tuition clause in your separation agreement. Although this is not a requirement, you can include a provision dictating the financial logistics of tuition. In some cases, one parent may feel that the child should bear the financial burden, while the other believes the parents should split the cost. This disagreement can be sorted out with a legal mediator during the separation process.
- Start saving early. If your child is young and the thought of college is not even on the horizon yet, it’s a perfect opportunity to start planning for college finances. It is better to be over-prepared than under-prepared once the day comes to send your child off. Consider starting a college saving program such as the 529.
- If your child is responsible for his/her bills, make sure, at an appropriate age, they understand the agreement. If you and your former spouse conclude that your child will pay all or a portion of the tuition bill, tell him/her early. Do not save this step until the last minute; he or she will need time to create a financial base or savings before heading out to school. Make sure your child knows that this is not the end of the world. Many colleges and universities offer work-study programs, and it is possible to work part-time. According to ABODO, 52 percent of college students worked a minimum of 27 weeks per year and 24.4 percent were responsible for 100 percent of their college expenses.
Negotiating the Tuition Clause in the Separation Agreement
Simply stating that a former spouse will pay a portion of your child’s tuition can lead to future complications. When negotiating the logistics surrounding the tuition, make sure each detail is listed. Instead of making broad general statements, include phrases like “parent W will contribute X percent of their income annually to child Y’s tuition fund held at Z bank.” Additionally, you should keep in mind that tuition isn’t the only expense. Are you going to pay for books, housing, and meals, or are you going to split those? You can also discuss whether there will be a cap on how many years of education you are willing to pay for as well as a minimum grade point average you expect your child to maintain before their tuition becomes their responsibility.
You want your child to receive a good education, but you also want to keep your head above water financially. As a result, the takeaway is that you and your partner should plan for your child’s academic future as early on as possible — whether you are getting divorced or not.