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Will a Judge Order Me to Pay For My Children’s College Education?

The cost of college education has reached astronomic heights. With private colleges costing approximately $60,000 per year and public colleges costing approximately $25,000 a year, these prices are affordable to very few.

Without careful planning and strategizing, your children, your former spouse and you may be burdened with loans for many years into the future.

That being said, working together with your former spouse in planning for college will produce the best outcome for your children. The discussions and the work have to begin well before your child’s junior year in high school. There are many decisions to be made, such as the cost of travel to visit colleges, cost of travel if your child chooses to attend a college a distance from your home, cost of application fees and choices in accommodations.  Most important is cooperation in completing financial aid paperwork in a timely manner.

The Child Support Guidelines, the child support statute, and case law all address the factors that a judge would consider when ordering divorced parents to pay for college.
The Child Support Guidelines list factors that the court should consider when ordering the payment of college expenses.   Some of those factors include:

  • the reason for the continued residence with and dependence on the recipient
  • the child’s academic circumstances,
  • the child’s living situation,
  • the available resources of the parents,
  • the costs of post-secondary education for the child,
  • the availability of financial aid, and
  • the allocation of those costs, if any between the parents.

The Mendel case [74 Mass. App. Ct 348 (2009)] also lists factors a court should consider when setting forth payment of college expenses: the financial resources of both parents, the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the marriage had not been dissolved, the financial resources of the child, the cost of the school, the programs offered at the school, the child’s scholastic aptitude, the extent to which a parent may have been unjustifiably excluded from the college decision making process, and others.

Because of how these different factors are weighted, how a judge may allocate payment for college is very fact specific. Certainly, if both parents participate in the decision as to which college a child will attend, will yield one result.  However, if one parent is left out of the decision, there may be a very different result.

If the factors enumerated above are not presented to the judge, you may find yourself being ordered to pay a certain percentage of the cost of a state school, regardless of what type of college your child plans to attend.

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