Paying for college is never an easy discussion for families but it can be extra challenging for divorced parents with child support orders in place. Some divorce arrangements consider college costs, but most states don’t force parents to pay for college for emancipated children.
Here we will discuss some key issues regarding child support and college expenses, including how they can impact financial aid and the expectations for parent contributions.
Understanding Child Support and College Expenses
College is expensive any way you slice it, even with financial aid and grants. Unfortunately, unless you specifically include college expenses in your child support order, the other parent won’t have to help cover the costs.
It is possible to apply for a modification as your child approaches college age, but that doesn’t mean the court will grant it. Several factors can influence the court’s decision regarding changes to the child support order, including both parents’ incomes, financial aid and scholarships the child receives, and the child’s age.
For example, if the child is a minor when they enter college, it is possible that the court would order child support payments be directed toward tuition expenses.
What Can You Use College Expense Support Towards?
If your child support order includes college expense support, it should apply to anything related to the cost of attending. Aside from tuition, college expenses include:
- Housing and meal plans
- School fees
- Medical and student health fees
- Renter’s insurance
- Transportation and parking passes
Your student may be able to use the funds toward general living expenses, like Friday night pizza, movies with friends, and tickets to school events.
Are Parents Obligated To Pay for College for an Emancipated Child?
No. Under Minnesota law, parents do not have to pay college tuition for emancipated children. Child support typically ends once a child turns eighteen and completes high school or the equivalent.
In some cases, the child support extends to age 20, or indefinitely for those children who cannot support themselves due to physical or mental impairments.
Parents can add provisions to the child support obligations that account for college expenses if they wish. Neither parent can force the other to contribute to college expenses for emancipated children.
Do I Have to Pay If My Child Wants To Attend an Expensive Private College Instead of the Closer, Cheaper Option?
If you are required to pay for your child’s college expenses, there are several factors the court would consider in this case. There would likely have to be compelling reasons for the child to attend the more expensive college at your expense.
Are Parents Required to Pay for Graduate and Professional Education?
No, parents can elect to support their children through graduate and professional school, but it is not a requirement. The parents can enter an agreement to ensure one or both contribute to higher education.
How Does Child Support Affect Financial Aid?
Financial aid is tricky, especially when factoring in divorced parents and child support. Many young people rely on financial aid to pay for school, which means filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) every year.
While independent students use their personal earnings, dependent students use their parents’ income. This means using their custodial parent’s income to determine their eligibility for children with divorced parents.
Using a single parent’s income makes young people more likely to qualify for aid; however, they have to report child support on the FAFSA. The child only has to report legally obligated child support, not voluntary payments from their non-custodial parent. However, child support can impact the expected family contribution (EFC) by making it appear that the custodial parent has more income than they actually receive.
What About Alimony?
The FAFSA considers more than just child support when determining aid. If the custodial parent receives alimony as part of the divorce settlement, the student must provide that information when they file.
Individual Schools May Have Different Financial Aid Policies
To make things even more confusing with financial aid, child support, and college expenses; individual schools can set their own guidelines for reporting. While the FAFSA only requires the custodial parent to provide income, some schools also require information from the non-custodial parent.
It’s a good idea to check into the school’s policies on financial aid for children with divorced parents. If the college or university uses a College Scholarship Service (CSS) to make the financial aid decision, they may require both parents to provide income information.
Some schools even request financial information from stepparents. Those institutions feel that since one or both parents remarried, they have support to offset the costs of mortgages, utilities, and general bills, leaving more money available for college.
These situations can create complex financial aid questions for students, especially if only one parent remarried or if siblings and step-siblings are involved. Parents should contact the financial aid office to discuss the impact of child support, alimony, and other factors on their student’s college expenses and aid.
When Should I Request College Expense Support for My Child?
You can request college expense support during the initial divorce proceedings. The court may grant college expense support in some cases based on certain factors.
- Each parent’s financial resources
- What the child’s financial status would have been if not for the divorce
- Financial aid, scholarships, and grants received by the child for college
- Child’s school performance and if college is a reasonable, realistic option
There is no hard and fast rule for college expense support, and it may be a sticking point for some parents given the cost of higher education.
Let Us Be Your Guide On Child Support and College Expenses
Navigating the world of divorce, custody, and child support is challenging enough, but factoring in college expenses and financial aid makes it that much tougher. You want what’s best for your child, and we can help. Contact CJB Law today to learn how we can guide you through the process and ensure you and your child receive the financial aid you need.