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Divorced Parents – How Will You Handle College Expenses?

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

college_costsWhen couples divorce, it's not unusual for them to part with vastly different expectations about what happens next. Couples often agree to share college expenses even when they have little intention of actually doing so. If you are a custodial parent and you expect the noncustodial parent to help with college it is best to get this in writing as a part of a divorce settlement. Even then it may be difficult to enforce in court.

Paying for a child's college tuition plus books, fees, room and board can be financially terrifying to a single parent, let alone one who has had difficulty collecting child support. When parents are divorced, the subject of paying for college expenses can be a major source of controversy, but Colorado's child support laws are very clear about this obligation.

Here are the rules concerning college expenses:

The Court cannot order the parents to pay for college expenses if the original child support order was entered on after July 1, 1997 - unless the parties agree in written document (for example a Separation Agreement, a Parenting Plan or Stipulation) filed with the Court after July 1, 1997.

If a child support obligation was established or modified prior to July 1, 1997, the Court can order the parents to pay for college expenses.

The Court cannot order a parent to pay for college expenses for a child at the same time as the parent is paying child support for that child.

In Colorado, parents are allowed to make the decision whether they will pay for their children’s college education, but a court is not permitted to order parents to pay for college unless the parties agreed to this in writing prior to July 1, 1997.

The Court cannot order college expenses to be paid after the child reaches age 21.

A college expense order can be modified by the Court or by mutual agreement of the parents.

College expenses may include tuition, books and fees. A Court can't order the parties to pay for room and board at college, unless the parents agree.

Many custodial parents are outraged by the fact that they are expected to shoulder most, if not all, of their child's college costs without any support from the noncustodial parent. This is not to say that noncustodial parents aren't willing to pay on their own, but a surprising percentage of them stop their financial support at the age of emancipation.

While there is no clear evidence to support this, it is generally believed that noncustodial parents feel somewhat less "invested" in their child's education and they are often left out of the decision-making process about which school their child will attend.

Child support orders entered before July 1, 1997

In Colorado, college is considered "postsecondary education," which means any financial support would need to be associated with the education program itself, which includes only tuition, books and fees. For child support orders entered before July 1, 1997, the court might find it appropriate for both parents to contribute to these costs, taking into account the resources of both parents; but only if the child support order is terminated first. Also, in determining the amount of each parent's contribution, the court is limited to an amount that does not exceed the basic child support obligation for that child.

The amount of contribution that each parent is ordered to pay for college expenses shall be subtracted from the amount of each parent's gross income, respectively, prior to calculating the basic child support for any remaining children.

A Colorado Springs family lawyer can help you make decisions about college expenses that will be in the best interest of your children. While your agreement may not be enforced as child support it may be as simple as making regular contributions to your 529 plan.

Photo Courtesy of Cool Design / FreeDigitalPhotos.com

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MPatMarrisonFor over a quarter century, we have helped people during what is often the darkest time in their lives. Divorce is not easy even under the best of circumstances. For most people, family is central. Having something go wrong in the family can have a ripple effect that extends beyond the home and into other areas.

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