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Paying your child’s college tuition after divorce

The moment a child announces they were accepted into college, especially if it’s a prestigious institution or their top choice school, is a moment of joy and pride for parents. To see how your child has succeeded and think about what their future holds is a big moment for you.

Then the panic sets in. How will your child pay for tuition? You may have a college savings account set aside already, but tuition and other hidden costs can get expensive and may be more than you anticipated. Even trickier is determining who will pay the bill when you and the child’s other parent are divorced, if it is not already outlined in your divorce settlement.

Here are some important things to know about paying for the tuition of a child of divorce.

1. Divorced parents usually foot the bill

Education is seen as a necessity in New Jersey law, which means in most cases divorced parents are required to pay for the tuition of their child if they are financially capable of doing so. The reasoning is that the child’s education should not suffer just because their parents divorced.

2. Child support can last until your child is 23

In New Jersey, child support obligation ends through probation when the child turns 19. However, the law allows for that support to continue up to age 23 when the dependent is attending a full-time college, vocational or graduate school program. This means that if you are currently obligated to pay child support, you will likely need to continue those payments while the child is in college.

3. Your child can receive financial aid because of the divorce

In many cases, students whose parents are divorced or have been separated for at least six months can qualify for a financial aid package through Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or other programs. That may take some of the financial burden off you and your ex-spouse.

If your child applies for financial aid through FAFSA, they will only look at the financial information of the custodial parent (and the custodial parent’s new spouse, if applicable). FAFSA classifies custodial as whoever the child has lived with more than 50 percent of the time in the past year. Child support payments do count as income in the eyes of FAFSA, so those will be factored into the decision.

If you and your ex-spouse haven’t already mapped out a plan to pay for your child’s college education, you can discuss your options and work collaboratively with your ex with the guidance of a family law attorney. They can help you determine the best way to approach the FAFSA application and how to equitably split the costs, leaving your child to worry about nothing other than making the Dean’s list.

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