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College after parents’ divorce: Who pays the bill?

Getting a college education in Texas and elsewhere is becoming increasingly difficult, thanks in part to rapidly growing tuition rates. However, for children of divorce, going to college can be even more of a challenge when it then comes down to which parent, if either, is going to foot the bill. Students attending private four-year colleges can expect to pay an average of $35,000 per year in tuition and fees, while at state colleges and universities tuition alone is nearly $20,000.

A recent study has shown that children of divorce often receive less help financing college, even if the child’s parents get remarried. However, parents who remained married were said to cover about 77 percent of their children’s tuitions, using about 8 percent of their incomes to help pay for their children’s education. In contrast, divorced parents use about 6 percent of their incomes to pay for less than half of their children’s college educations.

A recent case in Connecticut has garnered interest across the country, including in Texas. A young woman’s parents divorced in 2004, while she was attending college. Perhaps sensing her future college costs could be an issue, she had her father sign a contract stating he would pay for her education until she reached the age of 25. In return, she promised to apply for both scholarships and financial aid. When she was a senior, her father stopped paying her college costs, and she took him to court.

Her father counter-sued, claiming she did not live up to her end of the bargain by applying for the scholarships or any financial aid. The judge sided with the young woman, awarding her $47,000. Some observers see the daughter’s successful claim as setting an important precedent for the treatment of college costs in divorce negotiations. As the cost of higher education continues to escalate, greater attention will likely be paid to the financial responsibilities of parents when it comes to college tuition.

Source: Naples Daily News, “Cost of college a burden for children of divorce,” Ed Greenberger, June 28, 2012

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