Who Pays for the Children’s College Tuition After a Divorce in California?

Divorce is one of the most challenging life changes that a person may ever experience in their life and it is made all the more difficult if children result from the union. And while we tend to think of divorce’s impact on small children and how it may traumatize their development, divorce raises questions about how to raise children of all ages. These concerns extend to who will ultimately pay off the child’s school expenses, including college tuition.

In California, child support obligations usually end once the child reaches the age of 18 or when they finish high school. Neither parent is legally obligated to supply the funds to send their child to college.

However, there are ways to ensure that a parent contributes to the college funds, such as reaching a mutual agreement while signing the divorce papers.

Should Children Be Responsible for Their Own College Enrollment Fees?

This is ultimately a question that must be answered on a case-by-case basis. No article online can presume to know your financial status or the financial situation of your children.

Parents may decide that their children need to pay for their own college education, or they may opt to help the children or even pay for the college tuition in its entirety. There is no easy answer to this question. Do what you can. Do what you think is suitable for your children.

Can a Judge Order a Parent to Pay for a Child’s College Tuition?

If you cannot persuade your ex-spouse to help pay for your child’s college education, you can make a case in divorce court. If you can raise a convincing argument, the judge may suggest revisions to the divorce agreement. Factors that may influence such a decision could include an ex-spouse’s ability to pay for the education and the child’s gifted talents or special needs.

Is the Father or Mother More Likely to Be the One Responsible for College Fees?

In divorce, the courts try to put the children’s needs above all else, and often that means giving them the most stable lifestyle possible. Usually, a mother will retain custody of the children, while a father will be responsible for child support. As to the question of whether that support extends to paying for a child’s college tuition, no, a father is not necessarily any more likely to be on the hook for such an expense as a mother.

These cases are determined by the unique facts of the situation, primarily the finances of each parent and the needs of the child in question. If a divorcing parent, regardless of gender, is considered incredibly wealthy, the court may urge them to pay for their child’s college education.

Does Child Support Cover College Tuitions?

California law states that child support is meant to cover basic living expenses for a growing child, including the cost of food, clothing, housing, recreational activities, and certain other expenses. California’s divorce courts have the discretionary ability to issue additional expenses like medical treatment, travel expenses, and the child’s education. The judge will decide on these additional expenses based on the facts unique to each divorce case.

If one parent is asking that child support include money for extra education, they must prove that these expenses are necessary in a court of law.

What Options Are Available for Planning for a Child’s College Enrollment After Divorce?

There are two main options for divorcing parents to plan ahead for their children’s college educations: entering into an agreement during the divorce proceedings or establishing a trust or escrow account to pay for college expenses.

During the divorce, the ex-partners can negotiate the terms for an agreement to fund a child’s college tuition. The conditions of the agreement must be hammered out and clearly defined so that there can be no wiggle room to take advantage of the agreement later on.

Things to consider when drafting such an agreement should include the following:

  • Does the contract cover private schools or public schools?
  • How are the payments made?
  • How much must either parent contribute to the college fund?
  • How often are payments made? What happens if payments are late?
  • If there are leftover funds, what is to be done with them?
  • Is there a time limit or expiration date for the expenses?
  • Must the child reach certain grade levels to continue receiving college payments? Are there other conditions that the child must adhere to?
  • What expenses does the college fund cover? Will it just cover enrollment fees, or will it extend to room and board and other expenses?
  • What if the child opts to enroll in a college or university that is out-of-state?
  • Who will handle the money?

Alternatively, the divorcing parents could opt to establish a trust or escrow account and put money into those accounts for the child’s education. This option is very similar to drafting your own agreement. However, it may be bound by more rules and regulations, which could help ensure that one parent doesn’t take advantage of the other. A trust or escrow account is also a popular option if the funds are available now and there is no need for either parent to save or make payments over time.