The Old College Try: How Much Will Your Ex Contribute to Your Child’s Tuition?

As college acceptance letters begin coming in for high school seniors, parents are tackling the question of how they will afford it all.

Divorced parents have additional factors to consider both when completing financial aid forms and when negotiating with a former spouse about contributions.

What does your divorce settlement say?

Reviewing the divorce agreement is an important first step. Many people mistakenly believe that their former spouse is required to pay 50% of college expenses, but most divorce settlement agreements do not specify college contributions, as it is difficult to predict figures until a college has been chosen.

Have you discussed college costs with your ex?

With The College Board reporting the average tuition for a private four-year institution at nearly $35,000, college costs will be a significant expenditure for any family. What conversations have you and your former spouse had about who will pay what?

Who is filling out the financial aid forms?

Although the custodial parent is required to complete the financial aid forms – including the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form – it will not always be the parent who provided the most financial support in the past year or even the parent who claimed the child on last year’s tax return. It is important to consider in advance how to best represent your financial situation.

Where do you live?

Illinois is one of only a handful of states that have laws for divorced parents regarding college contributions. These laws cover a variety of educational expenses, including housing and books, and have specific requirements about a child’s age and academic performance. Understanding the legal requirements in your state is an important step.

Has Covid impacted my obligation to contribute to college?

The answer is no. Despite children taking classes at home, obligations to contribute to college tuition have not changed.

What has changed is the timeline for completion of cases. The court system is doing the best it can to manage the current pandemic in a remote fashion. Judges and court personnel are working hard. However, due to the nature of this crisis, the court system is moving slower. Any new college contribution cases should be commenced as soon as possible to ensure there are no issues with payment for the 2021-2022 school year.

Determining how to pay for college when parents are not married can be complicated, but especially in our current times, asking the right questions early in the process will lead to much better outcomes.

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