By Robert L. Mues   |   September 5th, 2015

Child’s College Expenses Problematic Upon Divorce. Why it’s Important To Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

college expenses divorceWith the importance of higher education becoming more apparent every day, it is not uncommon for divorcing couples to decide to provide for their children’s college expenses. In Ohio, like many other states, domestic relations courts cannot ordera parent to pay these costs because the duty of support generally ends once a child reaches the age of 18 (or in some situations at 19) .  Nevertheless, the parties can negotiate a division of the college expenses and incorporate it into a separation agreement.

Generally speaking, a separation agreement is a contract and is therefore, binding on the parties involved.  So, if you decide to agree to be on the hook for your children’s college expenses upon divorce, it is extremely important that the language within your agreement clearly expresses your intent.

In many cases, the children of these divorcing couples have yet to reach the age of 18.  Therefore, these provisions providing for college expenses are quite often a future occurrence not set to happen for years after the divorce is final.  This can obviously produce many problems.

For example, the price of college is increasing every year.  What you might pay for a four year degree today is not necessarily what you will pay for the same degree 10 years from now.  In addition, what if your stubborn and wild 5-year-old turns out to be quite the student and gets accepted to Harvard or Yale when your were planning on a community college or state school? The truth of the matter is, so many things can happen between the time the parties enter into the agreement and the time their children actually go to school. Therefore, it is crucial that the provision states exactly what the parents are, and are not, willing to pay for.

Along those lines, several issues should be considered.  For example, what if the child becomes too engulfed in their new-found freedom and decides to skip class, not show up for finals, etc.  Is it fair for the court to keep making the parent(s) pay for the child to mess-around? Or, what if the same child later decides to take their education seriously but is behind in classes and therefore takes 5 years to graduate?  Or what if they take a year off?  Is a parent paying for “4 years of college” only agreeing to 4 consecutive years? In addition, will the costs of room and board, meal plans, books and transportation be provided for? Or will just tuition be covered?  It is important to keep in mind that generally speaking, the court will treat the separation agreement as a contract and therefore will enforce it as written.  However, if terms within the agreement are vague or ambiguous, the court does have the power to clarify and interpret the provision(s) in question. Keep in mind though, that the court’s ideas or definitions may differ from yours.

Hire Experienced Divorce Attorneys To Cover College Expenses For Your Child

In the end, if you and your ex decide to provide for your children’s college expenses, it is best to be as thorough and as clear as possible; careful drafting is the key.  Contact one of our experienced family law attorneys to help you navigate this divorce quagmire!

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Robert L. MuesAbout The Author: 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.

College Expenses And Divorce
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