Who pays for a child’s college when parents divorce?

Whether you have a toddler or a preteen, you are probably thinking about how to pay for college. Determining how much you can and will contribute to your child’s college education can be difficult, especially if you co-parent your child with an ex. Here is some information to help you make these important decisions.

What Texas laws say

In Texas, there are no laws that require parents (custodial or non-custodial) to pay for their child’s college. Child support obligations continue until the last to occur of the following:

  • Your child turns age 18
  • Your child graduates from high school

Texas does not have a law that specifically directs parents to make financial contributions to their child’s college education. However, parents may decide otherwise. For example, a part of your divorce decree or a court order may stipulate that support obligations continue until your child graduates from college.

Deciding who will pay

Many parents decide who will pay for a child’s college during a divorce or when working out a child custody agreement. During these discussions, parents should address the financial realities of who may be able to pay for college. Do both parents have the resources to contribute to a child’s college fund? Will it be paid in a lump sum or with periodic payments? In cases where only one parent will contribute, your attorney can help you adjust property division or child-related agreements to reflect that allowance.

Deciding how much to pay

College is a considerable expense, and where a child attends school dramatically affects the cost. If you are paying for college with or without the assistance of the other parent, establish ground rules ahead of time to make it clear to all involved. You might base your contributions on factors like:

  • Location (in-state or out-of-state schools)
  • Public versus private schools
  • Selection of a specific school (e.g., an ivy league institution or an alma mater)
  • Scholarships or loans
  • Other expenses like allowances, travel, books and extracurricular activities

Once you reach an agreement about your child’s continuing education, make the details a part of your divorce settlement. Taking this step can provide clarity and make it easier for courts to enforce the agreement later on.

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