A divorce often leads to many changes within a family. Recognizing this fact is extremely important, especially when children are involved. Divorcing parents should ask themselves each step of the way what they can do to minimize the negative impact on their children. Parental funding of a child’s college education often becomes a casualty in the process.
A recent study published in the Journal of Family Issues which was led by Ruth N. Lopez Turley, an associate professor of sociology at Rice University, confirms a major disadvantage for children from divorced families: Kids whose birth parents divorce get less financial help with college costs, even if their parents remarry, the study finds.
Parents who stay married to each other meet 77% of the tuition costs and contribute about 8% of their income to their child’s college expenses, according to the study of 2400 undergraduate students. Not surprisingly, especially to most divorce lawyers, parents’ contributions to college costs fall after a divorce. Divorced parents meet only 42% of their children’s financial needs and contribute only about 6% of their income.
But divorced parents who later remarry continue to lower funding levels meeting just 53% of their children’s needs and contributing only 5% of their income. Interestingly, this was true even though remarried parents’ incomes and those of parents who remained in their original marriages had similar income levels.
Turley explains that “the cost burden of higher education is shifted to the student in families with divorced or remarried parents”… “Remarried parents face a whole other set of obligations. Often, there’s a whole other family to consider, and stepkids.” Resources become stretched. So all too frequently, children coming from divorced families must shoulder the costs of obtaining a college education on their own. “These findings are troubling,” Turley says, “especially given the fact that recent shifts in financial aid policy are making it harder for students to qualify for aid.”
Usually at the time of a divorce, there is not enough money or assets to divide up to allow each spouse to feel comfortable about their future financial stability. That is especially true with the present economic challenges that we all face. A local divorce Judge I know regularly tells attorneys and parties that, “Divorce is a whole new ballgame…What they had planned to do while married is totally irrelevant now.”
In most states, divorce laws do not permit the Court to bind parents to contribute to the college expenses of their children or require child support after high school. So while parents continue to perhaps have a “moral” obligation to help children through college, absent an agreed upon provision in the divorce decree, there is no legal obligation to do so.
I am sure that most of us believe that some form of post-high school education is necessary today in order to have an opportunity to earn a decent living. The findings of this study highlight the importance of considering the impact the divorce may have on the long-term future welfare of their children. Hopefully, the study findings will encourage divorced parents to work together and to try harder to more readily assist their children with the costs of a post-high school education so educational costs alone won’t deter future opportunities in life!
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog. Mr. Mues has also been a dog owner for 55+ years, and just recently, he and his wife are the owners of "Ralph", a rescued mixed Wire Hair and Jack Russell Terrier.