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Who Is Going to Pay the Kids’ College Tuition? Considerations in Divorce

Law Offices of Fisher Wise Feb. 2, 2024

To put it bluntly, college education isn't cheap. If you can make it possible, it's an investment that can reap substantial rewards for your children. A degree can open doors to life-changing connections, robust career opportunities, and endless facets of personal growth.  

As a family law attorney, I've worked with countless families to build and modify child custody and support agreements. One concern that comes up often in these cases is deciding who pays for the kids' college tuition. With the rising costs of higher education, this can be a contentious and complex issue in divorce proceedings. Here are some key considerations to keep in mind when navigating this aspect of your divorce settlement. 

Child Support and College Expenses in Tennessee: What's the Connection?  

In Tennessee, child support typically ends when a child reaches 18 or graduates high school. There's no specific law mandating divorced parents to foot the bill for their child's college education. However, this doesn't mean you can't contribute if you want to. It's essential to understand that college expenses aren't always included in child support agreements. So, how does one navigate this?  

State laws concerning college tuition payments after divorce vary greatly. In some states, parents are legally required to contribute towards their children's college education. However, Tennessee is not one of these states. If you're not in Tennessee, I always recommend consulting with a knowledgeable family law attorney in your area who understands the intricacies of your jurisdiction's laws.  

What if you live in Tennessee but your spouse doesn't?  

The state where your divorce is finalized will determine whether college expenses are part of child support. If your divorce has been finalized in Tennessee, the judge may order one parent to pay for tuition and living costs if it's deemed fair and reasonable.  

Ultimately, the decision on who pays for college tuition lies with divorced parents. It's crucial to communicate openly and honestly about your expectations and financial capabilities. Keep in mind that the best interest of your child should be at the forefront of any decisions made regarding their education. 

Divorce Settlements: Addressing College Tuition Upfront 

When negotiating a divorce settlement, it's crucial to address college tuition explicitly, especially if your children are teens or starting to think about furthering their education. By including provisions in your divorce settlements regarding college expenses, you can avoid future disputes and ensure both you and your co-parent share equitable financial responsibility for their children's education.  

Financial Considerations: Who Pays?  

Deciding who will pay for college tuition requires careful consideration of both parents' financial circumstances. Factors such as income, assets, and other financial resources should be taken into account. In some cases, it may be beneficial to involve financial experts to accurately assess each parent's financial capabilities.  

Parental Contributions: How Much?  

Typically, both parents are expected to contribute towards their children's college education. But everyone's situation is different. A judge won't approve an arrangement that's unfair to one parent. Therefore, it's crucial to work together with your co-parent and come up with a reasonable plan that takes both of your financial situations into account. 

Other Funding Options to Consider: 

College Savings and 529 Plans: If you've been proactive in saving for your child's college education through savings accounts or 529 plans, these funds can play a significant role in covering college expenses. These savings should be considered when determining who is responsible for paying tuition.  

Scholarships, Grants, and Financial Aid: Don't overlook these resources, which can significantly reduce the financial burden on parents and should be considered when determining who will pay for tuition. You can find information about your child's specific opportunities by speaking with their guidance counselor or their future school's financial aid office and doing your own research online. 

Private and Federal Loans: If scholarships, grants, and financial aid aren't enough to cover the cost of tuition, private or federal loans can be another tool. However, it's essential to carefully research loan terms and interest rates to avoid future financial strain when your kids are getting settled in their careers.  

Mediation and Dispute Resolution 

If parents cannot agree on who will pay for college tuition, mediation or alternative dispute resolution methods can be helpful. These processes allow parents to work with a neutral third party to find a mutually acceptable solution.  

Modifying Agreements: When Circumstances Change  

Life is unpredictable. Financial situations, educational choices, and other factors can change over time, warranting a review and modification of the original agreement. If this occurs, it's essential to consult with a family law attorney to help navigate the process.  

Explore Your Options  

Determining who will pay for your kids' college tuition following a divorce is a significant decision that requires careful consideration and planning. Understanding the laws in Tennessee, considering both parents' financial circumstances, and exploring all available financial resources can help ensure your children have the means to pursue higher education. By addressing this issue proactively and including provisions in your divorce settlement, you can provide your children with the opportunity to achieve their goals. 

For legal help or advice regarding any child support matters, contact me at the Law Offices of Fisher Wise. I have the privilege of serving clients throughout Chattanooga, Tennessee, and our surrounding communities, including Red Bank, East Ridge, and Soddy-Daisy. I also provide legal services to those residing in Hamilton County, Marion County, Rhea County, Sequatchie County, and Bradley County.