Best way to coordinate on college payments when divorced?

Hi all -

My son is a high school senior - planning to apply to a mix of schools - and I don't yet know how my ex-husband and I are going to coordinate on college payments. In our mediated divorce settlement, we agreed to the following: "The Parties shall equally provide for the child's 4 year college education at an agreed upon institution and shall pay his tuition, room and board, books, health insurance, basic wardrobe, public transportation costs and transportation to and from home."

In the intervening years, my son and my ex became increasingly estranged. My ex moved away to another state and stopped contributing to agreed-upon expenses and only recently have they started communicating once/week by phone.

I've been able to cover all expenses (of course, with heavy and unfair hits to my own financial situation), but I will not be able to cover all college expenses on my own. Here are my questions:

1. How do I broach the topic of my ex meeting his obligations for college? My ex and I have almost no contact, so any communication from me about this will come from out of the blue. I expect he will say (1) he doesn't have the money or (2) that he will only cover a fraction of the expenses. He will also probably start talking about how he had to take out student loans (as did I) and our son should as well. Anything that my ex thinks can protect him from contributing... He will also say it in a loud, threatening voice. (He is a highly-paid consultant, although it's true that he has a remarkable capacity for squandering all his money, and mine when we were still together.)

2. If he surprises me and agrees to meet his obligations, what is the best way to set this up? I don't actually trust him to follow through. Would it be possible to get him to transfer money into an account that is shared by him and our son? Would a 529 be the best option? Are there other financial vehicles to consider? I'm looking for a way to make the funds available to my son so that he does not have to navigate his dad's temper and unpredictability on a monthly basis.

I would be grateful for any creative suggestions!


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I'm sorry you're having to navigate this very tricky situation. My situation is similar but different. I began my divorce process when my youngest was 18 and a senior in high school. The divorce finalized during her first year of college. During the divorce process, my spouse and I established a joint brokerage account linked to a checking account. Before community property was divided, we funded the account with an amount based on an estimated budget for 4 years of undergrad and 2 year of grad school. We both have access to the accounts, but I move the money around and pay the bills. It takes a fair amount of trust, and so far that trust has been honored on both sides. My youngest is aware of the system, and feels confident she will be supported in her education without being caught between her divorced parents.

I'm grateful to have set this up as it's working well so far. My youngest is now in their junior year of college. They and their father are not on good terms and have little contact. I also have little contact with him, because he will barely speak with me. I limit communication to what is essential and generally financial in brief, clear email. I avoid one-on-one phone or video calls as much as possible. When we need to discuss something in person, I try to have a third party present, preferably a professional assisting with issue of concern (taxes, finances, etc.)

I don't know if something like this could be implemented post-divorce, but it's what's working in my situation. I wish you and your son well.