How to Prepare for Your Child’s Education After a Divorce

How to Prepare for Your Child’s Education After a DivorceIt’s difficult enough for children when parents divorce. It’s even more difficult when a divorce affects the ability of a child to obtain a college education when both the parents and children were looking forward to the child’s college years. Unfortunately, living apart means each parent needs to pay for a separate place to live, separate cars, and many other separate expenses. Texas prioritizes the needs of the child, and those priorities apply to a place to live, food and clothing for the child, and other necessities of life until the child becomes an adult.

Texas does require that parents pay for the education of their child up until the time a child turns 18 or graduates from high school. There is no legal duty for a parent to pay for a child’s education beyond the age of 18 unless the parents agree to pay for college as part of their child support agreement. The agreement must be in writing. A verbal agreement does not protect your child’s future. The agreement should be made part of a court order so it can be enforced.

What factors affect the amount of child support for students attending college?

If parents want to, they can agree to pay for their child’s attendance at a Texas college, Texas trade school, any other post-high-school education in Texas, or any post-high-school education in other states. While parents can agree to create a separate bank account for their child’s education and to place funds in that bank account regularly, it is impossible to know how much your child’s education will cost until your child is accepted into a college or another education program.

Some of the factors that affect the amount of child support when a child attends college include:

  • The tuition costs
  • The cost of room and board if the child will live on campus
  • The cost of books, transportation, allowances, school fees, and other expenses
  • Whether there should be a cap on how much each parent pays for their child’s college education

Parents who do agree to enter into a child support agreement to pay for their child’s time at college should consider the above expenses and the following:

  • What percentage of the college costs each parent will pay
  • The extent to which your child will be responsible for any of the expenses
  • Whether payments be made to the physical custodial parent, the family court, or the college
  • The terms and conditions that determine whether the agreement to pay child support for college can be modified or terminated

Enforcement of child support agreements that cover college

If there is a child support agreement that is also a court order, then either the child or the other parent can seek to enforce the child support order by requesting that the court enter an order requiring that any child support in arrears is paid by a specific time – and that the obligor parent may face penalties if the college expenses aren’t paid within that specified period.

Modification of child support agreements that cover college

Since there is no duty for a parent to pay for their child’s college education, requests to modify a college education support order will be denied unless the agreement provides the specific terms for modifying the order. In short, if the parents agree at the time of the initial order to pay for college that modifications are permissible, the court can hear the modification request. Otherwise, the court will deny the modification request.

Parents who do agree to pay for their child’s college education in writing should consider what happens if either spouse remarries, if either parent’s financial fortunes change (for the better or for the worse), if their child doesn’t attend college, or if their child attends a college or university more expensive or less expensive than originally expected.

Parents should also consider how their child’s education will be funded if their child attends graduate school.

Strategies for saving for college

There are many college savings plans that parents can use while they are married and after they divorce – some with tax benefits. For example, Investopedia states that a 529 plan can be used to fund a college education for a child, pay off student loans, and fund a Roth IRA. The 529 plan can also be used to pay for K-12 education. 529 refers to Section 529 of the federal tax laws.

There are two kinds of 529 plans:

  • Education savings plans. These plans “grow tax-deferred.” The withdrawals are tax-free if they’re used for qualified education expenses and not for other needs.
  • Prepaid tuition plans. With these plans, the owner pays current tuition rates for future attendance at a specific college or university. Since the cost of a college or university education normally increases with time, this plan can save substantial sums of money.

Parents, grandparents, and friends of the family can establish a 529 account for a child or grandchild.

There are limits ($10,000 per year) on how much money can be withdrawn for tuition if the funds are used for K-12 education. There are no limits on college education withdrawals.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of 529 plan.

If you want to ensure that your child has funds to attend college or any other type of post-secondary education program, contact Grable Grimshaw PLLC now. We’ll help you understand how to create agreements and court orders that require that your ex-spouse fund their just share of your child’s education. Our San Antonio divorce lawyers help spouses and parents secure their economic future and the economic futures of their children after a divorce or separation. Call our office in San Antonio or fill out our contact form today to schedule a consultation.