Who Pays for College When Parents Are Divorced?

Planning and paying for your child's college education is challenging under the best of circumstances. For divorced parents, this process is even more difficult. Whether you're unsure who is responsible for what or you have complicated legal orders to adhere to, knowing how to ensure your child's higher education needs are taken care of is not easy.

Understanding how college expenses are handled in the context of New York divorce and child support laws can help parents create a solid plan for supporting their child’s higher education ambitions.

College Expenses & Child Support in New York

In New York, parents are obligated to support their children until age 21 (with certain exceptions leading to a child being considered "emancipated"). Section 413 of the New York Family Court Act outlines that parents, if able, are required to pay for child support, which includes care, maintenance, and education for any child under 21.

This statute means that a parent’s contribution towards their child's college expenses, including tuition and room and board while living away from home, can influence their child support obligations. However, these are not automatically assumed responsibilities and often require careful negotiation and planning during divorce proceedings.

Planning for College Expenses During Divorce Proceedings

For parents going through a divorce, it's wise to address the issue of college expenses as part of the divorce negotiations. Doing so can help parents proactively plan for the significant cost college represents. It can also help prevent misunderstandings and disputes in the future.

This planning can include:

  • Specifying the amount each parent will contribute
  • The type of expenses parents will cover (tuition, room and board, books, etc.)
  • Any conditions related to the support (such as maintaining a certain grade point average)

What If College Planning Was Not Part of Your Divorce Process?

If you did not address college expenses in your original divorce decree or child support order, it's not too late. Situations change, and New York courts understand this. Parents can petition the court to modify their child support order to include or modify provisions for college expenses.

If you plan to modify your child support order to accommodate college expense planning, you are encouraged to consult an experienced attorney, like ours, at Law Office of Tzvi Y. Hagler, P.C. before beginning the process.

Adjustments for Non-Custodial Parents’ Support Obligations

Many non-custodial parents wonder if their child support obligations will decrease if their child does not live with the custodial parent while attending college. This question arises mainly when the non-custodial parent contributes significantly to college expenses, including room and board. In New York, the situation can vary based on several factors, including existing court orders and individual circumstances of the parents and child.

Generally, if the non-custodial parent is paying a substantial part of the child’s college expenses, this can be a factor in adjusting the child support amount. However, this is not automatic and requires presenting the case to the court, showing that the financial contributions toward the child's college expenses significantly alleviate the custodial parent's financial burden or impact the non-custodial parent's ability to comply with their original order.

Courts consider college expense contributions within the broader context of the child's needs and the parents' financial situations. Non-custodial parents seeking an adjustment in their support obligations should consult their attorney to understand their options and the best course of action.

The Importance of Legal Assistance

Dealing with the legal intricacies of divorce and child support while planning for your child's future can be overwhelming. Working with our experienced attorneys can help you protect your interests and your child's future. We are here to help negotiate an agreement with your co-parent, represent you in modification proceedings, and/or provide guidance on adjusting your plans as circumstances change.

If you need guidance on approaching this situation, whether at the outset of your divorce or years down the line, we're here to help. Contact us online to schedule a consultation. Together, we can find a solution that supports your child's future success.