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Florida Women's Law Group

Divorce And College Expenses

Author: FWLG
Date: Jan 18 2021

graduation hat on a pile of cash

Who Pays for College After a Divorce?

When college kids get the news that their parents are divorcing, one of their top worries will be the cost of college.  Divorce involves a lot of changes and many of those are financial and child support usually stops after the age of eighteen.  So, what about college expenses, who is going to pay for them and does divorce effect financial aid?

Address College Expenses in Settlement

In the state of Florida, courts view college as a moral obligation, not a legal one.  If you are divorcing and have children, it is very important to include college expenses in your divorce settlement.  It is difficult to go back and amend it after it is final.  

When addressing college expenses in your settlement be as specific and detailed as possible.  Be clear about what will be paid for each child such as, tuition, room and board, books, meal plans and expenses.  It is common to have a cap at how much will be paid too and for how long.  Couples often look at the cost of in-state tuition and base their commitment on that amount.  This information is important to hash out before your child gets their heart set on a school that is financially not feasible.  Also, declare who is paying what, will it be 50/50 or proportionate to income levels?  It is a good idea to set up separate accounts for each child that is specifically for college expenses and not to be used anything else.

Consider what-ifs as well when planning.  Your child may want to take a gap year, go to graduate school or not go to college at all.  What happens to the money if plans change should be addressed.

Impact of Divorce on Financial Aid

Applying for financial aid for college is complicated but it is even more so for students with divorced parents.  Most private schools and some public universities have their own formulas for determining financial aid.  When looking at schools investigate how they award financial aid to choose ones that will be most advantageous to your child.

Most colleges and universities use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) to determine financial aid packages.  FASFA asks about marital status but is more concerned with if parents live together or separately.  In most instances of divorce, parents are not living together, in this case, FASFA looks at who the child resided with the most or who provided the most financial support.  They deem this parent the “custodial parent.” If custody is 50/50, choosing the parent with the lower income may help students qualify for more aid.  However, they must live with the custodial parent one more day of the year than the other parent.

FASFA does consider child support and alimony so if the parent whose income is less is getting sizable payments from the other parent it may not help increase financial aid.  If the custodial parent remarries, FASFA considers the financial information of the new spouse.  If both parents remarry it is possible that financials of both parents and their new spouses can be considered in awarding financial aid.

When beginning the college process, take the time to look at the financial aid requirements at each school to find ones that are most advantageous to your situation.  College financial aid administrators have a lot of experience in evaluating these forms.  Do not falsify your information on your financial aid forms.  Most schools will ask for a copy of your divorce settlement and IRS tax returns are required.  

Whether you are married or divorced it is a good idea to plan for the expense of college.  If you are divorcing, be sure to address it in your divorce settlement to avoid conflict down the road.

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