Under California law, the obligation to pay child support ends at age 18 (or 19 if the child is still in high school). Except in cases of disability, California law does not contain provisions for adult child support. As a result, in the vast majority of cases, child support will not cover tuition, room and board, and other college-related expenses.
So, then, how should parents address the issue of their children’s college costs during their divorce?
Options for Addressing College Expenses in a California Divorce
In California, as in most states, parents do not have a legal obligation to pay for their children to go to college. But, many parents do pay, and in a divorce it is understandable for each parent to want the other’s commitment to contribute to the costs of their children’s education. As with property division and spousal support, divorcing spouses have a significant degree of flexibility when it comes to addressing the issue of their children’s college expenses. Two of the most common methods for doing so are:
- Entering into an agreement regarding payment of college expenses
- Establishing a trust or escrow account to hold funds for college
Entering Into An Agreement Regarding Payment of College Expenses
The first method that many divorcing parents use to address the issue of their children’s college costs is to negotiate an agreement as part of their overall divorce settlement. Similar to an agreement regarding spousal support (or any other divorce issues), an agreement regarding college expenses should be clear on all of the key financial aspects as well as any limitations or conditions involved. For example:
- Does the agreement cover private school tuition, or public school only? What if a child gets accepted to a school out-of-state?
- Specifically, what expenses are covered? Most likely tuition; but, what about room and board, meals, books, and daily living expenses?
- How and when will payments be made?
- Must your children meet any conditions in order for the parents’ financial obligations to continue (for example, maintaining a certain GPA)?
- Is there an outer time limit on the duration of each parent’s obligation to cover their children’s college expenses?
When entering into an agreement regarding college expenses, another important issue to address is the issue of modification. In a relatively recent case, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District held that an agreement to cover college expenses was subject to modification in the event of a “material change in circumstances,” similar to an award of child support. However, the court also held that divorcing spouses could prevent future modification by including a clear provision in the agreement stating that it must remain effective as written.
Establishing a Trust or Escrow Account to Hold College Funds
A second option divorcing spouses may want to consider when it comes to funding their children’s college expenses is to set aside funds in a trust or escrow account. This is somewhat similar to the agreement approach noted above, but can provide greater protection against one spouse breaking the agreement in the future. If the funds needed to pay for your children’s college are available now (in other words, there is no more saving that needs to be done), this may be an option worth considering in your divorce.
Schedule a Consultation with North County Divorce Attorney Richard M. Renkin
Everyone’s situation is unique, and protecting your financial interests while providing for your children’s future requires careful planning and thoughtful consideration. If you and your spouse established a 529 college savings plan, this will need to be addressed in your divorce as well. To learn more about planning for your children’s college during a divorce in North County, call 619-299-7100 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with attorney Richard M. Renkin today.