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How Are College Expenses Handled in a Massachusetts Divorce?

How College Expenses Are Handled In A Massachusetts Divorce

When you are going through a divorce, there’s a lot to prepare for financially. You have to reconfigure your budget and long-term savings plan. You also must consider how you and your ex-spouse will pay for your children to go to college—or at least help them out.

If your children are interested in pursuing higher education soon, be sure to discuss college expenses with your Boston divorce & family law attorney at Infinity Law Group. During the divorce, you and your spouse can work out how you will handle your children’s education costs after high school. Or, you can ask the judge to decide.

Child Support Can Go Beyond a Child’s 18th Birthday

Under Massachusetts’ child support law, support may continue after a child is 18 years old. This is helpful for when your child or children continue to live with you while they go through college, a training or apprenticeship program, or another type of post-secondary education.

When a child is between the ages of 18 and 21 years, the court can make orders regarding maintenance, support, and education. These are separate orders. A parent may be ordered to help pay for college with or without being ordered to pay child support to the other parent.  

For a parent to be ordered to pay child support or college expenses, the adult child must live at home with a parent and depend on that parent financially. The court will not require a parent to pay support if the child is living independently—physically and financially.

Also, the court can make support and education orders when a child is younger than 23 years, lives at home, is financially dependent on a parent, and is in an educational program. This excludes educational costs beyond an undergraduate degree, though.

Support During College is Discretionary and Limited

Massachusetts’ Child Support Guidelines offer more information on when a judge may award child support and college contributions while an adult child is in a post-secondary educational program. It is important to keep in mind that a judge has discretion in whether or not to order child support or college contributions for an adult child. It is not guaranteed.

The court will consider various factors, including:

  • The cost of post-secondary education;
  • The child’s aptitudes;
  • The child’s living situation;
  • The child and parent’s available resources; and
  • The availability of financial aid.

The guidelines also state no parent can be required to pay more than 50% of the cost of an undergraduate degree (tuition, fees, and room and board) for an in-state resident at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. The exception to this is if the court finds a parent can pay a greater amount.

It is important to note these are the 2018 guidelines. The recommendations for how judges consider college contributions or support for an adult child may change in the future.

Child Support Modifications May Have to Wait

You cannot force your spouse to agree to child support payments or savings too far ahead. Massachusetts’ judges will not determine a parent’s post-high school child support when a child is years away from college because of the court’s decision in Lang v. Koon (2004).

You will need to wait until your child is planning to attend college or another program soon to address modifying support.

If you and your ex have not agreed to child support payments when your child is in college, junior year is a good time to bring up the topic. This gives you and your ex time to negotiate an agreement yourselves, utilize mediation, or file for a child support modification in court.

Many Parents Are Required to Share College Expenses

A common outcome for divorced parents is both being required to contribute to their child’s college expenses while one parent continues to pay the other child support.

The child support may be modified to address the child living in a dorm a portion of the year or to address the other parent also contributing to the educational expenses.

How Judges Decide Parental Contributions to College

It is up to the judge whether parents are required to help pay for their adult child’s higher education expenses and how much each parent must contribute.

Judges have a great deal of leeway in deciding how much each parent should contribute. In some circumstances, parents can be ordered to split the cost 50/50. Some judges consider each parent’s income after child support and divide college expenses proportionally. Other judges may order the child and each parent to be responsible for a third of the cost.

The Best Solution to College Expenses is Planning Ahead

College expenses are worrying for any parent, especially as the cost of college has skyrocketed over time. Our Boston divorce & family law attorneys at Infinity Law Group recommend trying to plan ahead with your spouse. The court may not require you both to contribute to a college savings plan, but you both may see the benefit of such an agreement.

Contact Infinity Law Group today at (617) 250-8236 or through our online form. We have offices in Boston, Quincy, and Needham, MA where we can conduct your free initial phone consultation.