Am I responsible for my child’s college education expenses in a divorce?

Am I responsible for my child’s college education expenses in a divorce?

In a divorce in Wisconsin, or any action involving children, child support will be established.  State law establishes guidelines for the calculation of child support, which include several factors that act to balance the needs of the children with the respective incomes of the parents.

A closely related issue is who should be responsible for the children’s college tuition and expenses.  Parents are often surprised to learn that this issue does not fall within the scope of a parent’s child support obligation, and thus, is not governed by the State’s divorce law.

Regarding Wisconsin Statute 767.511(4), the Court “shall order either party, or both, to pay for the support of any child of the parties who is less than 18 years old, or any child of the parties who is less than 19 years old–if the child is pursuing an accredited course of instruction leading to the acquisition of a high school diploma or its equivalent.”  Essentially then, a divorced parent’s child support ends when the child graduates from high school.

Your next question may be, “What are my options?”  In most cases your best option is to enter into a written agreement, which retains the power of a binding contract, but which must involve the other parent’s cooperation.  By effectively drafting and executing an agreement, you create an enforceable means of ensuring that your child’s post-secondary educational needs are met.

If I am able to reach an agreement, what would I include in it?

It is important for parents who are able to reach an agreement to consider the following:

  • How much tuition will each of you cover for your child?
    • Will this include private tuition?
    • Will this include out-of-state schools?
  • Will any other expenses be split?  This could include:
    • Room and board
    • Books
    • Other expenses not covered by tuition
  • Will there be any contingencies tied to the support?
    • What if my child doesn’t meet specific academic requirements?
  • Is there a 529 college savings plan available?
    • If the answer is yes, you must consider how the funds are to be distributed.

Often parents will neglect to include these specific parameters in their agreement.  You can never have enough specificity, which can help prevent future disputes.

To learn more about creating agreements that ensure your child’s post-secondary educational needs are met, give us a call today at (920) 383-1116.