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How to Plan for College Expenses when Negotiating Custody & Child Support

College expenses

When going through a divorce, there is a lot to consider and work through. This is especially true when you and your spouse have children together. Not only will you have to work out child support and child custody agreements, but you also must figure out visitation schedules, how holidays will be split, and how major child-rearing decisions and responsibilities will be divided. While you may be focused on your child's immediate needs, it is important that you also consider college planning if that is something important to you and your child.

Do Divorced Parents Have to Pay for College in Texas?

According to the Texas Family Code, parents are only legally obligated to support their children financially until they are 18, have graduated from high school, or have been legally emancipated. Unlike some states, there are no provisions requiring parents to continue supporting their children through college, nor are there provisions stating that parents must pay for their children's college expenses.

However, many parents elect to provide financial support for their children through college. When a child's parents are divorced or separated, they may enter into a legal agreement outlining each parent's responsibility for their child's university costs. This legal agreement can be made as part of the divorce and custody process or established later on.

How Divorce Impacts Financial Aid

Generally speaking, when a student fills out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application, their custodial parent (the parent they spent the most time with) will be required to provide their income. However, if the parents share 50/50 custody, the parent who provides the most financial support to the child will have to report their income. This can pose a problem for students who are relying on federal aid to attend college.

This is done to help determine the student's financial aid ability. If the custodial parent remarries, their new spouse's income may also have to be reported and can significantly impact the student's ability to qualify for financial aid.

To learn more about reporting parental income, review the FAFSA information page here.

Things to Consider When Developing Your Parenting Plan

While not every child will want or need to go to college, many parents want to ensure that their child has the option to attend a college or university should they wish to. When you and your child's other parent are divorced or separated, planning for college expenses becomes more complicated. Keep reading for guidance on making your child's college expenses part of your custody and child support planning.

What Expenses Do You Plan to Cover?

College is expensive and comes with a wide range of costs. Not only do students have to pay for their tuition, college fees, and textbooks, but they also have their living expenses to consider. Furthermore, those expenses can increase exponentially if your child goes to college away from home or out of state. You also have application fees and moving costs to consider.

As part of your planning with your co-parent, you should discuss what specific expenses you hope to cover for your child and how much. For example, do you hope to cover 100% of your child's tuition costs and 50% of their living expenses? Understanding both what the costs are and how much you plan to contribute is an important step in determining how you will split the costs with your child's other parent.

What Are Your Financial Limitations?

When considering whether to include an agreement regarding college expenses in your settlement or parenting plan, you and your former partner must discuss your financial capacity and limitations. This will help you both figure out what you can potentially contribute to your child's future college expenses. Furthermore, understanding the financial capacity of each party will help you both determine how college expenses can be fairly split.

What Can You Do Now?

It is always recommended to start planning for your child's college expenses as early as possible. Depending on the age of your child, this can mean different things. For example, if your child is very young, you may wish to speak with a financial planner and establish a college fund for your child. If your child is older and getting ready to apply for college, you may wish to look at your shared assets and consider whether any of them may be allocated specifically to helping your child pay for college.

Regardless of your child's current age, including college expenses in your parenting plan is worthwhile. The sooner you and your co-parent discuss these issues, the sooner you can begin to work out what is best for your family.

My Co-Parent Agreed to Pay for College but Now Isn't; What Do I Do?

It can be very frustrating when a parent initially agrees to help cover college expenses, only to later go back on that agreement. Depending on your situation, you may have options for holding them legally accountable for their promise. If you and your child's other parent had a legal agreement regarding their responsibility for contributing to your child's college expenses, you should reach out to an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your options. A skilled lawyer can help you determine if you have grounds to seek enforcement of the agreement through the courts.

To speak with an experienced attorney today, reach out to our law firm and schedule a consultation.