Protecting Your Family's Future

Dealing with College Costs in a Divorce

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 a 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 divorcing 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 a divorce about how they will be handled. 

In some cases, parents may want to divide the 529 account 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 at (281) 420-8020 to set up an appointment for a consultation in Baytown.

Negotiating a Parenting Plan in the Child’s Best Interests

The Importance of Negotiating a Parenting Plan With an Ex

One of the hardest parts of the divorce process for couples with children involves determining custody and visitation arrangements. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 45.2 percent of the divorces that took place in the Lone Star State in 2013 involved children. If you’re involved in a custody dispute, an experienced family law attorney may be able to help you negotiate a settlement that will enable you to get the time you want to spend with your children.

Texas Conservatorships

Texas statutes use the word “conservator” instead of “parent” when describing the legal rights and responsibilities of guardians. Conservatorship as defined in Texas Family Code – FAM § 153.005 is a broader definition than parent since it includes guardians like the Department of Family and Protective Services, other licensed child-placing agencies and other adults with a protective interest in the child as well as biological parents. If the biological parents cannot agree to an acceptable custody plan, then a family court judge will decide the specific terms of the conservatorship. In deciding on the terms, the judge will act in what he or she deems are the best interests of the child.

The two types of conservatorship in the Lone Star State are:

  • Joint managing conservatorship: Family courts typically begin with the presumption that it’s in the best interests of the child that both parents be named conservators. This arrangement is called joint managing conservatorship. However, joint managing conservatorship may not mean that both parents have equal rights of possession and access to the child.
  • Sole managing conservatorship: Sometimes, the family court judge will make one parent the sole conservator. This includes situations in which one of the parents has no interest in assuming the responsibilities of guardianship. It may also apply when one parent has a history of violence, addiction or abandonment, or if extreme conflicts exist between the parents regarding subjects like education or religion. The parent who is not the sole conservator may still have visitation rights. He or she is referred to as the possessory conservator while the parent who’s been named as the sole conservator is referred to as the managing conservator.

Standard Possession Orders

Texas statutes define visitation rights as possession and access to the child. If parents cannot agree on a visitation schedule, the family court judge may use statutory guidelines to impose one. These guidelines go to such extreme lengths to be fair to both parties that the results may sometimes seem a tad excessive.

For example, take the degree of specificity incorporated into Texas Family Code – FAM § 153.314. Holiday Possession Unaffected by Distance Parents Reside Apart. This statute addresses which parent shall have rights of possession to the child on holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as well as on the child’s birthday. This statute states the possessory conservator shall have possession of the child between the end of school and December 28 on even-numbered years while the managing conservator shall have possession of the child on odd-numbered years. This degree of specificity and inflexibility may strike many as extreme, but it’s what divorcing parents face if they can’t put their differences aside and work together to negotiate a parenting plan that’s in the best interests of their child.

Negotiating a Parenting Plan

The only way to avoid being subjected to guidelines such as those contained in Texas Family Code – FAM § 153.314 is to negotiate a parenting plan with the other parent of your child. If both parents sign off on a parenting plan, a Texas family court judge will sign off on it too, in most instances.

This can be a difficult task if your communications with your soon-to-be former spouse or partner are tumultuous. However, amicable relations between parents are almost always in the best interests of the child. An experienced Texas family law attorney may be able to help you and the child’s other parent come to an agreement that works for everyone. Call Stewart Law in Baytown, Texas, today at (281) 420-8020 for more information.

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