If you and your spouse have recently made the difficult decision to separate after decades of marriage, you may be wondering how best to protect your financial future while also keeping the well-being of your children in the forefront. When college is just around the corner for your teen, splitting households (and costs) can quickly become more complicated. What should you keep in mind if you're divorcing just before your child heads off to college? What can you do to give your teen the best chance of a low-cost and successful college education? Read on to learn more about how divorce can affect college costs and what you may be required to pay toward your teen's higher education costs.
How does divorce affect how much your child will pay for college?
Many colleges will require your teen to fill out or file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) before extending an aid package. The FAFSA asks questions about household size, income, and assets in an effort to help determine how much parents can afford to pay toward their teen's college education -- the expected family contribution (EFC). Teens from households with low EFCs may be offered need-based aid from their prospective colleges, while those from households with moderate or high EFCs may qualify for subsidized federal loans.
If your divorce is pending while your child is applying to college, he or she may be forced to use your marital income and information for the FAFSA. Because splitting one household into two usually requires incurring some additional costs and often means money is tighter for both parties, having your teen's college aid package based on your former joint income could prevent him or her from receiving all the aid to which he or she is entitled.
What can you do to preserve your rights while supporting your teen's education?
Although filling out the FAFSA doesn't obligate you to pay a penny toward your teen's college costs, even if your EFC is high, divorcing shortly before the college years can bring college costs into child support calculations. Many state child support laws permit extended support past age 18 -- along with payment of a proportion of college costs -- as long as the teen is enrolled in college at least part-time.
If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse are on the same page with regard to paying for your teen's college (or not), this process will be much easier. Your attorney and your spouse's attorney can work together to draw up a child support agreement that includes or excludes certain college costs and present this agreement to the court for approval.
If you and your soon-to-be ex aren't able to agree on who should pay for your teen's college (or how much should be paid), you may want to use this situation as a bargaining chip when it comes to other marital assets or debts. For example, if you don't want to pay for your teen's college and your spouse wishes to keep the house, you may want to give up a portion of your equity in the house in exchange for an agreement that you won't pay any college costs. Alternatively, you may want to volunteer to shoulder the entire cost of your teen's college yourself (particularly if you feel confident he or she will get multiple scholarship offers) in exchange for some extra marital assets.
For further assistance, contact a local divorce attorney, such as one from Eschbacher Law.
My husband and I had a great marriage for about ten years--that is, until he started cheating on me. I found out about it from a friend, and once I started peeling off the layers of my husband's lies, I realized that we hardly had anything to salvage in the first place. I decided that it would be best to get divorced, but I knew that it would be painful and difficult. This blog is for anyone out there who needs to gather the strength to get divorced. Check out these posts to learn more about the process and how the right lawyer can help.