Dealing with College Costs in a Divorce
Feb. 21, 2019
Planning for Children’s University Expenses During Divorce
For many parents in Texas, university costs are a major concern. Statistics show that the cost of university education has been rising consistently over the years, and this trend is expected to continue. The financial impacts of divorce can be significant, but a family law attorney in Texas can help to divorce parents to reach an agreement and a plan to pay for their children’s higher education.
Texas Law and University Education
The Texas Family Code requires both parents to support their children until the age of 18. It does not contain provisions mandating support for university costs and other expenses after a child reaches legal adulthood. Still, the U.S. education system generally expects that parents will receive support, as financial aid awards are often based on parental income. Students need access to their parents’ tax information to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the standard form used for most university financial aid decisions, including federal student loans.
College costs will not be ordered by a judge as ongoing child support after the age of 18, given the limitations of the Family Code. However, in many cases, both parents want to ensure that their children have access to the best educational opportunities possible. This means that parents often decide to include a provision for managing university costs as part of the divorce decree through mediation or a negotiated settlement.
College Expenses Are On the Rise
According to The College Board, the cost of attending university rises by around 3 percent each year. Every year of attendance at a four-year private university averages over $46,000 in costs when tuition, fees, and room and board are included. Even attending a public university costs over $20,000 annually when these costs are taken into account. These increases are expected to continue into the future, meaning that college costs are a major expense for the vast majority of parents.
529 Plans and University Savings After a Divorce
Many families open 529 plans, special savings accounts that require distribution for educational costs. While they can only be used for certain expenses, the owner and beneficiary of the account can be changed at will. As a result, many parents may want to maintain these accounts and reach an agreement during divorce about how they will be handled.
In some cases, parents may want to divide the 529 accounts in half, with each parent responsible for a portion of the savings. In other cases, they could choose to add both parents to the account on an ongoing basis to monitor education savings. A family law attorney can provide advice on how to handle education savings accounts in the divorce process.
Negotiating College Costs in a Divorce Settlement
University expenses are a financial concern, and like other financial issues, they can be included in a divorce settlement. By laying out plans as clearly as possible during mediation with a Texas divorce lawyer, you can help to avoid future disputes over educational costs.
Remember that a divorce decree is a legal document, and parents will be bound by the decisions they make, barring a return to court. In some cases, you may be able to reach a detailed financial agreement. In other cases, you may be able to communicate intentions. Either way, making a legal agreement about educational expenses can help the kids to make decisions and plan for the future, something strongly in the best interests of the children.
Another factor to keep in mind is that custody matters when it comes to financial aid. Only the custodial parent’s income is considered on the FAFSA. This designation is different than that of legal custody and reflects who the child lived with most for the previous year. Parents should come to an agreement about which parent will play this role, taking all factors into account, including financial aid eligibility.
When you are thinking about how to protect your children’s future during a divorce, you can turn to a Texas family law attorney for help and guidance. Call the experienced divorce lawyers at Stewart Law to set up an appointment for a consultation in Baytown.