If you have not already done so, I recommend that you go back to yesterday's blog post and read what we were discussing about college tuition, divorce, and agreeing with an ex-spouse to take on the responsibilities of paying for your child's college tuition. We lay the groundwork for how a court would rule on agreements to pay college expenses if you or your spouse were to go back on your word and live up to your end of the contract.
I want to pick up on that topic today. Because of the rising costs of college tuition in the United States, you and your spouse need to consider the future costs of college for your children if your divorce is still ongoing. Agreeing to pay $50,000 towards your child's educational costs is very generous. Still, if your goal is to pay for the entirety of your college education, that may not cut it from a financial perspective. If you have young kids as I do, you may be amazed to find out that bearing in mind inflation and the costs of college-going up organically that $50,000 may only pay for one year of school if we project a decade or more into the future.
For this reason, it is wise to consult with a financial planner in addition to your attorney when determining what you can offer in terms of a settlement at mediation. If you and your spouse already have a college fund started for your child, it may make sense for both of you to put a "good faith" sum of money into the account at the time of your divorce to show the other that your promises made in the divorce decree will be followed through with. A financial planner can more accurately project the likely costs of a college education for your child, considering the school your child wants to attend and your child's age.
What can (and should) be included in a college expenses agreement in your final decree of divorce?
In your divorce, if you and your spouse decide to include a provision or two that detail the expectation that each of you will be contributing to your child's college education financially, there are some recommendations that I can make as far as what I believe would be wise to include in the decree. The point is that there is no specific right or wrong answer to this question. The worst thing you can do is to allow yourself to believe an assurance made by your ex-spouse without getting that promise in writing.
First of all, define the terms you will be using in the agreement. What does college mean? Does that mean community college, a four-year university, a trade/vocational school? If your child ultimately attends graduate school, medical school, or law school, will these expenses be covered by the agreement contained in your divorce decree? Make sure that you do not leave these items unaccounted for. An ambiguous order can lead to a judge determining that they cannot enforce the charge down the road if your spouse reneges on their promise.
Second, how long is the agreement good for? I think it's accurate to say that most of us that attended college did so either directly out of high school or just a few years after. People earn most college degrees before they reach age 25, from my personal experiences. With that said, do you and your spouse anticipate holding money in reserve for your child to attend college if they decide to work for a decade and then go to school in their early thirties? I don't know that it is reasonable for you to make that sort of promise, and I know people who have stated explicitly in their divorce decree that unless the child begins college by a certain age, the agreement becomes null and void.
Third, will the payments be made directly to a school, to your child, to a mutually agreed-upon financial adviser who will then issue payments to the school or your behalf or through another means? Finally, consider whether or not you will be making these college payments regardless of how well your child performs in school. I can think back to my college days and know of a handful of my peers sent home after a semester or two of poor marks. These students had an agreement with their parents that unless they maintained a specific GPA, their college experience would come to an abrupt end. Decide with your spouse through mediation whether or not this is something that you all would like to have included in your divorce decree.
What is a fair agreement that your spouse and you in mediation can reach?
From as early as we can remember, we've all sought one thing when it comes to our interactions with other people: fairness. We want, and will often demand, what is fair. To be treated fairly. To get a fair shot at doing a particular activity. Get a fine slice of the community property that you and your spouse share.
You and your spouse will need to determine what a fair percentage for each of you is as far as what is contributed to your child's college fund. Do you earn significantly more or less than your spouse? Consider what your child's obligation is to pay for their expenses as well. Many parents take the position that their child should have to work their way through school because that's what they did, and it worked out well in the long run. Other parents take the opposite view that because they had to work and attend a class, they do not want their child to pull "double duty" like this. Either way, find that happy medium with your family and then put those terms into your divorce decree.
Bear in mind that your child holds a lot of power regarding how much college will ultimately cost. As we've discussed previously, your child may be able to choose from several colleges that admit them. Choosing a college based partly on the costs to attend the university can significantly impact the equation utilized to determine how much money is needed to save. Consider the volume of scholarships and grants available to students nowadays compared to when many attended college. While you and your spouse are busy working and saving money, do not forget that your child can play their role in college savings.
Cash-flowing college expenses instead of steadily saving
Many spouses going through a divorce will agree on these issues mentioned above while not saving along the way little by little. Instead, these folks will simply "Cash flow" college expenses as they arise out of the liquid cash that they have on hand in the future. Considering that there is always a risk when investing, this is a more surefire way of paying for college, but it is not always possible.
The future becomes the present rapid- take this into account when settling your divorce.
Even if you have young children, I am willing to bet that you will be surprised by how quickly those kids go from learning to ride a bike to preparing to go away for college. You want to consider your options on paying for college early and often. If you are going through a divorce, this process offers you and your spouse a way to plan for college and put those plans into writing formally. Your child isn't going anywhere, and neither is college costs.
Questions on saving for college? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC
If you have questions about saving for college expenses while going through a divorce, please get in touch with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC. Our attorneys are experienced in advising clients regarding methods that can be utilized to memorialize agreements between you and your spouse to help pay for your child's college expenses. We offer free consultations with a licensed family law attorney six days a week.