Divorce and Funding Your Child’s College Education

Divorce and Funding Your Child’s College Education

Regardless of your child’s age when divorcing, one of the important issues to consider is your child’s college education and how it will be paid for. 

Are divorced parents legally obligated to pay their child’s college tuition?


And what can you do while divorcing to be sure college is an option for your child.

​Below are a few basic pointers to keep in mind when it comes to divorce and your child’s college tuition:

  1.    Parents’ have no legal obligation to pay for their child’s college tuition

In California, the general law is that payments on child support stop once the child reaches the “age of emancipation,” which is 18. This means that there is no legal obligation to pay for the child’s college tuition, unless stated otherwise by the court. 

   2.    Therefore, include college support in your divorce agreement

The best way to secure funds for college is to include the obligation in the divorce settlement; this is in addition to and on top of other child support payments. It is also wise to arrange to have the funds secured in a trust account so that they are available at any given time. 

   3.    A non-custodial parent carries a bigger responsibility on college expenses

Generally, a non-custodial parent takes the bigger responsibility of shouldering college expenses. However, the judge will try to ensure one parent isn’t unfairly burdened with the child’s educational costs, especially if parents are dealing with more complicated custody situations. Courts will weigh several factors to determine whether one or both parents are capable of paying for college tuition and if so, up to what extent. These factors include, but are not limited to:

  • Each parent’s financial situation

  • Each parent’s level of post-high school education

  • If both parties would have expected their children to attend college if they were still together

  • The child’s academic achievements and goals

  • The debts and assets of the non-custodial parent

  • The child’s capability to get financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, loans

  • The child’s capability to earn while still in school

The judge may consider the above factors to decide if awarding college support is appropriate. If a parent wants to ensure his/her child is receiving adequate support, the parent may want to consider a voluntary College Support Agreement.

​  4.    College Support Agreement

A college support agreement stipulates each parent’s responsibility for their child’s college costs.


A court will honor a College Support Agreement even if you live in a state that won’t mandate parents to pay their children’s college expenses.


A College Support Agreement must explain and define the following factors to make it enforceable:

  • The type of college it will cover-- public university, private school, technical college, or trade school

  • Covered expenses such as tuition, housing, food, travel costs, books, allowances, and other living expenses

  • How payments will be made

  • Child’s responsibility on certain expenses

  • Child’s lodging while attending school

  • Conditions the child must meet in order for maintained payments, such as good behavior or grade point average.

Remember, considering your child’s college financial needs is a significant undertaking, and must therefore take careful planning. Research and exhaust all possible options to ensure the best outcome for you and your child. 

If you have questions or you’d like help with your divorce financial planning, please reach out to me at divorce@kimberlysurber.com to schedule a no-charge phone appointment.

Tags: college tuition, child support, college financial needs, emancipation, divorce financial planning, College Support Agreement

Filed Under: Child Support, Financial Tips

This information is not intended to be a substitute for seeking legal advice from an attorney. For legal or tax advice please seek the services of a qualified attorney and/or qualified tax professional.

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Kimberly Surber

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