Determining what to do about a child’s college or university expenses post-divorce can be a complicated process. Depending on how old your child is and where you are at in the divorce process will affect how you approach this issue. If you are currently in the middle of your divorce or have not yet filed, you should consider including college planning as part of your parenting plan.
Getting on the same page with your child’s other parent can help make the process smoother and help you establish clear expectations. However, for divorced parents, the conversation about college can be even more challenging. Questions about who is responsible for the child’s college expenses, how a college fund will be managed, and more abound.
Keep reading for some helpful guidance on planning for your child’s college education when you and their other parent are divorced.
How Much Will College Cost?
According to Northwestern Mutual, the current average cost of college (including tuition, fees, room, and board) is $21,950/year at an in-state, state school. For a private university, the current average cost is $49,870/year. This translates to $87,800 for four years at a public university or $199,480 for four years at a private institution.
It is projected that in 10 years, the cost will increase to $143,018 for four years at a public college and $324,932 at a private college. And in 15 years, the cost will be $182,528 for a state school and $414,704 for a private school. While students can expect to fund their college education from various sources (scholarships, government assistance, student loans, etc.), as parents, the sooner you start planning, the better.
Some things to consider when planning for your child’s college needs:
- How many colleges your child will likely apply to
- The average cost of applying to college
- The cost of SAT and other college prep courses or programs
- Whether you expect your child to need or want academic tutoring
- The cost of extracurricular programs associated with their college plans
- The cost of in-state & out-of-state tuition
- The average cost of living for a college student, beyond tuition and university fees
- Whether you expect your child to live on campus, off-campus, or at home
- The differences in cost between public and private universities
Extending Child Support to Cover College Expenses
The Illinois Compiled Statutes Section 513 outlines parental responsibilities for providing for the educational expenses for a non-minor child. While child support typically ends when the child turns 18, the courts can extend a parent’s child support obligation to include their college expenses.
The courts may also require the parents to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and other financial aid forms on behalf of the child. They may further require parents to pay for up to 5 college applications, the cost of 2 standardized college entrance exams, and the cost of 1 standardized college entrance exam prep course (such as an SAT prep course).
To learn more about how the courts may extend financial support obligations for a child’s college expenses, review our blog on the topic here.
Starting a 529 College Savings Plan
Once you and your child’s other parent have decided to prepare for your child’s college expenses, you should look into setting up a 529 plan for your child. 529 plans are tax-advantaged savings plans, also called “qualified tuition plans.” There are two basic types of 529 plans – prepaid tuition plans and education savings plans.
Illinois residents have the option of two 529 savings plans: Bright Start Illinois 529 College Savings and Bright Directions Advisor-Guided 529 Savings. With both of these plans, contributions are tax-deferred and can be withdrawn tax-free for qualified higher education expenses. Furthermore, contributions up to $10,000 for individuals and $20,000 for joint filers are tax-deductible. To learn more about these plans, review the Illinois State Treasurer page here.
Negotiating with Your Co-Parent
If you and your co-parent do not already have college planning built into your parenting plan, you may want to schedule some time to discuss the issue. Because this can be a difficult topic, if you and your child’s parent struggle to agree, you may want to reach out to a lawyer for guidance. This is especially important if you believe that your child support agreement or parenting plan requires a modification to accommodate college plans. Depending on your situation, you may also find working with a mediator helpful. A mediator acts as a neutral third party and can help facilitate a resolution.
It is also important to keep in mind that divorce and subsequent remarriage may affect your child’s financial aid eligibility. It is often presumed that both parents will be contributing to the child’s educational expenses, even if their parents are divorced. Consequently, many universities require both parents to submit financial information to determine what the student is eligible to receive.
If you are in dispute with your former spouse over your child’s college expenses, reach out to our law office for guidance.