A Brighter Future Awaits.

Who Will Pay for the Kids’ College After Divorce?

On Behalf of | Feb 12, 2024 | Divorce |

You may not know whether your kids are going to college or what your finances will look like when they do, but you should plan for the possibility.

In North Carolina, child support obligations typically end when each child turns 18 (or up to 20 if they are still in high school). They don’t extend to paying for college.

Furthermore, if you don’t agree in your custody agreement to split tuition and other college expenses, the court will generally not order either parent to pay. Therefore, it’s critical that college costs be included in your custody agreement.

An Agreement to Split College Costs Is Binding in North Carolina

You can negotiate an agreement with your divorcing spouse to each pay a portion of reasonable college expenses, and North Carolina courts will generally enforce it. It’s not quite as easy as saying “we’ll each pay half,” however.

What if your child wants to attend a school that is far too expensive for you to manage? What if your income goes down between now and the time you’ll be paying for college? Or what if your income goes up dramatically? Take some time to think through the scenarios and come up with an overall plan.

You’ll need to set some expectations. Should you and your ex split college costs equally? Should the two of you be wholly responsible for the cost of each child’s college, or will your children pay some of the bills? How will money from the kids’ 529 college savings plans be counted?

Consider stipulating an amount you think is realistic and fair. The College Board recently estimated that in-state tuition in the U.S. averages around $11,000 a year. Out-of-state or private college tuition is more. (That estimate doesn’t include room and board, transportation, textbooks and supplies, activity fees and personal expenses. These generally add up to at least the cost of tuition, if not more.)

For example, you could agree that you each will only pay up to a certain dollar threshold, such as $10,000 a year, for tuition. Then, stipulate another threshold for room and board and the other costs.

Alternatively, you could agree to each spend a percentage of your income. For example, you could agree that each of you will allocate 10% of your income toward college costs each year for the four or five years your child will be in college. Note, however, that the FAFSA may suggest you pay a significantly higher percentage of your income.

A good place to start these negotiations is by talking with your attorney. Be sure to hire one who has negotiated a few such agreements before and who will protect your interests during these negotiations.


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