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Who Is Going to Pay the Kids’ College Tuition After a Divorce?

Jeffers Law Office  April 11, 2024

The cost of a college education has risen dramatically over the past decades, becoming a significant concern for many families across the United States. For divorced parents, this concern is compounded by the challenge of determining who will bear the financial burden of their children's tuition.  

This article was written to explore the intricacies and potential solutions for divorced parents grappling with the question of who will pay the kids' college tuition. Read on to learn about your options, and reach out to Jeffers Law Office in Overland Park, Kansas, with any questions. The firm serves clients throughout Olathe, Lenexa, Shawnee, and Leawood. 

Child Support vs. College Expenses

It's important to note that child support and college expenses, while related, serve different legal purposes. In Kansas, the law recognizes the responsibility of both parents to contribute to their child’s education. Here are the relevant provisions: 

In any legal action involving minor children, the court must make provisions for their support and education. 

Regardless of the custodial arrangement, the court can order child support and education expenses to be paid by either or both parents for children under 18 years of age. 

Child support typically terminates when the child reaches 18 years of age. However, there are exceptions: 

The College Savings Plan Factor

The presence of a college savings plan, such as a 529 fund, can complicate this assessment. These plans are designed to help meet the cost of a child's education, but how they are considered in the equation of parental financial responsibility can vary. 

Deciphering How Courts in Kansas City Make Decisions

When Kansas City courts are tasked with determining the payment of college tuition post-divorce, they evaluate several factors to reach a fair conclusion. 

Courts in Kansas meticulously review both parents' financial circumstances, the child's needs, and other relevant factors to allocate the responsibility of college tuition. They consider each parent's income, assets, and liabilities, alongside the child's academic performance, career aspirations, and the cost of the intended educational program.  

In instances where a 529 plan is present, the court assesses who contributed to the plan and how it can be used to offset the educational expenses.  

Also, courts consider any agreements or promises made by the parents regarding their child's education before or after the divorce. This holistic approach helps ensure that the decision is equitable and serves the best interest of the child, while also acknowledging the financial capacities and obligations of both parents. 

Negotiating College Expenses in Divorce Agreements

During the divorce proceedings, it's important for divorcing parents to proactively discuss and detail who will be responsible for college expenses in their divorce agreement.  

This negotiation should encompass not only the division of any existing college savings plans, such as 529 accounts, but also outline specific contributions each parent will make towards future tuition costs, room and board, textbooks, and other educational expenses. 

An essential step in this process involves accurately forecasting the potential costs associated with the child's higher education, including tuition inflation rates, to ensure that the agreement remains relevant over the years.  

It's also critical to consider how these expenses will be divided. Will they be split evenly between both parents or will the division be based on each parent's income and financial capacity at the time of the child entering college? 

Furthermore, including contingencies in the agreement can provide a safeguard against unforeseen financial circumstances. For instance, what will happen if one parent experiences a significant change in financial status? Addressing these questions within the divorce agreement can help mitigate future conflicts and provide a clearer path forward for financing a child's college education. 

Ultimately, having a detailed and forward-thinking approach to negotiating college expenses during the divorce can pave the way for a more amicable resolution. This not only benefits the parents by reducing potential future disputes but most importantly, it serves the best interests of the child, ensuring they have the financial support needed to pursue their educational goals. 

Modification of Child Support Decrees in Kansas

The law acknowledges that life is not static post-divorce, and circumstances change. When they do, it may be time to revisit a divorce agreement. 

If you want to change something within three years of the last order, there needs to be a big reason. It could be a switch in where the child lives, how much money a parent makes, or the child getting older.  

To adjust the support amount, the change should be more than a 10% difference from what was ordered before. After more than three years since the last order, you don't need a big change to request a modification. The Court can't change support for past months or for the current month when the request is made. 

Proactive Planning Tips for Divorced Parents

Taking a proactive stance on college tuition after divorce can make all the difference. Here are actionable tips for forward-thinking parents in the Kansas City area:

  1. Start Planning Early: Engage in conversations about college funding as soon as possible, ideally during the divorce negotiations. Setting clear expectations early can prevent misunderstandings in the future. 

  1. Open a 529 College Savings Plan: Consider opening a 529 plan or similar educational savings account, if you haven't already, and agree on how contributions will be made. Deciding on the ownership of the account (which parent or if both jointly) is also crucial. 

  1. Document Everything: Make sure all agreements regarding college tuition and expenses are included in your divorce decree or in a separate legal agreement. This should detail not just the amounts or percentages each parent will contribute, but also specifics like who pays for textbooks, housing, and other education-related expenses. 

  1. Review Your Agreement Periodically: Circumstances change, as do the costs associated with higher education. Agree to review your educational funding agreement periodically (e.g., every two years) to make any necessary adjustments based on your financial situation or the evolving educational goals of your child. 

  1. Research Scholarships and Loan Options: Encourage your child to research and apply for scholarships and grants, as well as pursue low-interest loans, to help cover their educational expenses. This can alleviate some of the financial burden on both parents. 

  1. Consult a Financial Advisor: Financial planning for college is complex, more so when dealing with the aftermath of a divorce. Consult with a financial advisor to determine the best strategies for saving, investing, and maximizing your contributions to your child's education. 

  1. Encourage Independence: Encourage your child to contribute to their education through savings from part-time jobs and applying for scholarships and grants. This not only helps with expenses but also instills a sense of responsibility and value for their education. 

  1. Communicate Openly With Your Child: Keep communication lines open with your child about their college aspirations and the realities of financing their education. Understanding parental financial limitations can help guide their decisions on where to apply and what field of study to pursue. 

By following these tips, divorced parents in Kansas City can better manage the financial burden of their children’s college expenses, ensuring that both parents contribute equitably and that the child's educational goals are supported. 

When to Contact an Attorney

Navigating the financial intricacies of college tuition post-divorce can be a complex and emotional process. While mutual agreements between parents are ideal, there are instances when reaching a consensus on the division of college expenses becomes contentious or impractical.  

During these times, consulting a family law attorney becomes not just beneficial, but necessary. An experienced attorney can offer invaluable guidance on state laws, clarify your legal rights and obligations, and propose strategies to ensure the educational funding agreement is both fair and enforceable.  

Prepare for the Road Ahead

The question of who pays for college after a divorce is not one to be taken lightly. For parents in Kansas City, the path to navigating this complex financial terrain lies in education and preparation.  

By understanding the local laws, preemptively planning, and engaging professional counsel when necessary, parents can ensure a smoother, less tumultuous transition to their child's collegiate life chapter. 

Remember, the decisions and agreements you make today could heavily influence your child's educational opportunities tomorrow and well into the future. By following the suggested steps and seeking the guidance of Jeffers Law Office, parents in Kansas City can confidently and responsibly chart the course for their children's academic journeys.