There are many important assets that must be divided during a divorce: real estate, retirement savings, and personal property. But one that can be particularly nerve-wracking for parents is savings for your children’s college education.
It’s hard enough to save before a divorce. But paying for two households instead of one with your current income means that finances are further stretched, making it even more difficult to find the extra money. This may mean changing your plans for your child’s education.
For example, if you had originally planned to pursue a degree at a private institution, you may have to look at public universities instead. You should also investigate scholarships and grants that may be available to your child. Another option is to start at a community college and then complete the last two years at a four-year university.
Whatever you choose, you don’t necessarily have to go it alone, and there are steps you can take during divorce proceedings to plan ahead. Here are two important things to consider.
Know what your spouse will contribute.
If your spouse is currently paying child support, unfortunately, you cannot rely on that money to help your child during college. The state of Florida only requires child support payments until the child turns 18 years old. Your spouse will not be legally required to contribute.
However, just because your spouse is not legally required to contribute doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she would be unwilling to do so. You can enter into a voluntary agreement for financial support for your child’s college expenses.
Ensure necessary details are included in the agreement.
You can make a verbal agreement at any time, and that can help you plan accordingly. But it won’t be enforceable in court unless the details are included in your marital settlement agreement.
The agreement should clearly set out:
- Who will receive the payment. It could be the college or university, the other parent, or the child.
- What is covered. Will the spouse cover specific expenses or up to a specific dollar amount? How long will the payments be made?
- What progress must be maintained. College is expensive, and those education costs can add up quickly if the student frequently changes majors or simply signs up for a class or two to stay on mom or dad’s dime. Consider adding a minimum requirement for credit hours and/or GPA. Just because it is set doesn’t mean you have to stop payments if this minimum isn’t achieved, but that way you have the option to.
- How the parent can verify that progress. In order to ensure the credit hours or GPA requirements are met, you will need access to your child’s academic records. This should be included in the agreement as well.
By working out these details during the divorce, you, your spouse, and your child can rest easy knowing that college expenses have been taken into account, and you won’t be scrambling to figure out a way to make ends meet after your child turns eighteen.