A divorce can be one of the most difficult and exhausting times in anyone's personal life, regardless of the added worries of dividing property and assets. When you factor in the well-being of the children of a marriage that's ending things can easily become even more difficult — especially since many parents hope to secure the financial well-being of their children in the future. The price tag of a college education these days is astronomical, and that trend doesn't seem to be improving.
Under California law, the obligation to pay child support typically ends at age 18 and there are no provisions for adult child support.
Therefore, in most cases, child support payments don't cover tuition and other college related expenses. Planning for your children's financial future can seem like an additional weight in the event of a divorce. In the best case scenario, both parties involved in the divorce have been saving up for the happy event that their child or children are accepted to a university.
However, even the best-laid plans can suffer from unforeseen financial events, and many families have difficulty making ends meet, let alone setting aside funds for future use. Understandably, many of our Los Angeles clients want to know what, if anything, they can do to shore up their child's financial future and higher education costs as a part of their divorce proceedings. So, what can parents do to address the issue of the high cost of their children's college expenses?
As stated above, parents have no legal obligation to pay for their child's college expenses in a divorce judgment. However, many parents voluntarily decide to pay as both parents will often commit to contribute to the high cost of their education. Just like spousal support and property division, there is significant flexibility in a divorce judgment when it comes to dealing with the issue of their child's college expenses.
In many divorce cases in Los Angeles County, the most common methods involve coming to an agreement to pay college expenses and creating a trust account specifically designed to hold college funds. If you have decided to start the divorce process, you need to consult with the Los Angeles divorce lawyers at Furman & Zavatsky LLP. We need to thoroughly review your situation in order to develop a plan to help pay for your child's college expenses. Now that we have covered a general overview of securing expenses for your child's education, let's take a deeper look below.
Child Support Basics
The Judicial Branch of California defines child support as the “amount of money that a court orders a parent or both parents to pay every month to help pay for the support of the child (or children) and the child's living expenses.” Child support payments are calculated based on a statewide formula, called guidelines, that depends on how much money each parent can earn along with other income, the number of children the parents share, how much time each parent spends with the child, and many other factors including medical, transportation and daycare costs. In the event that divorcing parents cannot or will not agree on how to share the costs of child support, the court will order child support payments based on these guidelines.
As stated above, in the state of California, child support obligations end when the child reaches the age of 18 (or at age 19 if the child is still in high school at age 18). This means that neither party in a divorce is obligated to pay for higher education costs by way of child support payments. (In fact, parents are never legally obligated to pay for their children's college educations — though they usually hope to.)
Since child support payments do not cover higher education expenses (tuition, room and board, and the like), it is in the best interest of both parties to agree upon a plan to pay for their child's college tuition in the divorce agreement. This can help ease any questions down the road and establish a clear picture of each parties financial contribution.
Two Ways to Set Aside College Expenses for Your Child During Your Divorce
In most cases, both parties in a divorce want to ensure two things: that their child's higher education costs are taken care of, and that the other party in the divorce is contributing in a fair and equitable manner to those costs. There are two main ways to achieve these goals.
Negotiate an Agreement
The first method often used by parents who are getting a divorce to deal with the high cost of college is to negotiate an agreement in their divorce settlement. Similar to an agreement involving other divorce related issues, this agreement for college expenses need to be very clear on the financial details and list any limitations. For example, does the agreement cover the cost of private school education, or only public schools? What about out-of-state colleges?
What specific expenses will be covered other than tuition? What about room and board, meals, and general living expenses? How will be payments for college expenses be made? Are there certain conditions that must be met by your child, such as maintaining a certain GPA? Include an agreement regarding paying for the child's college expenses in the divorce agreement.
This involves negotiating the payment terms as part of the parents' overall divorce settlement and should lay out in no uncertain terms both the terms of such an agreement and any conditions or limitations that might affect the agreement at any point. Finally, when coming to an agreement about paying your child's college expenses, you need to address the issue of potential modification at a later date.
Establishing a Trust Account
The second method often used by divorcing parents to deal with the cost of their child's college expenses is to create a trust or escrow account designed to set aside funds. This method is similar to negotiating an agreement discussed above, but this method typically provides a much stronger protection against your spouse breaking the original agreement down the road.
This means that during the course of the divorce process in Los Angeles County, you can establish this trust or similar financial account to hold and secure the funds one or both parties agree to contribute to the child's higher education costs. In theory, this approach should be entered into with the same care and specificity as a payment agreement, but again, it's important to note a protected financial account also affords some security for the child's college expense fund should one, or both parties break the agreement.
Call a Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer to Discuss Your Case
A child's education is of the utmost importance. Whether you plan to enter into a payment agreement as part of your overall divorce settlement or prefer to agree to contribute funds to a trust or escrow account, hiring legal counsel is your best bet to ensure that all aspects of the agreement are legally sound and that your child's college fund will be secure.
Everyone's divorce situation is unique, and protecting your own financial interests while providing for your child's future requires careful planning. If you and your spouse have established a 529 college savings plan, this issue will need to be addresses during your divorce. The Los Angeles divorce attorneys at at Furman & Zavatsky LLP are ready and willing to help you safeguard your child's financial future. To discuss the details of your divorce, contact our law firm at 818-528-3471.