coping with feelings after dad financially abandoned 18 year old

I have an 18 year old son with a neurological disability. His dad moved away about six years ago. Since then, son has worked very hard in therapy and has been accepted to a 4 year college. I am so proud of him. 

However, on son's 18th birthday, his dad flew to CA, took him out to lunch and announced that he would no longer receive a penny of support from dad. Dad had been paying child support. He has an executive position that he has held for many years and makes in excess of 200k per year. He also has no other children.

I am now looking at paying for all of son's education on my own. We have looked into financial aid and there is some available, but the costs will still be very large. I have made arrangements for an equity line on my house to pay for college. 

My problem is my feelings about all of this. My son tells me he does not want to "get in the middle" and that he loves and respects both parents equally. He calls his dad nearly every day. While I am glad they have a good relationship, I am appalled that his dad seems to have gotten away with dumping all of the financial responsibility for our son's education onto me with no consequences. I have considered my options and none of them feels right. It seems like those are (1) I could also refuse to pay, which would mean our son would not go to college, which is unacceptable to me; (2) I could confront ex-husband, which would be pointless as he has no legal obligation to pay for college; (3) I can pay and deal with all of the anger and resentment. At this point, I am choosing option 3.

I also considered asking son to pay for half of his education by paying off some of the loans. I am struggling with this idea as my son's disability has created all kinds of problems for him and I would be very happy if he succeeds in college and is able to live independently. I don't want to burden him with debt if it would mean he had to move back in with me.

I am wondering if there are other parents who have dealt with this problem and how they handled it? Are there any other options? Am I enabling dad's behavior by agreeing to pay for the entire college bill?

Also, I feel like I need to purge myself of my pointless resentment. Part of me wishes that my son was at least a little bit angry at his dad. It seems like he is not because his college bill is being paid. Objectively, it is of course good for my son to have a warm relationship with his father. However, I find it irritating to hear them chatting and laughing every day while I worry about how to pay off the school loans.

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This sounds like a really difficult situation. If your son has a diagnosed disability he may be eligible for support from the department of rehabilitation. The DOR is paying my son‘s college tuition due to his disability and specific support programs at his school. If you reach out to me privately I will be happy to tell you about our experience with it. I learned about this resource from another parent and happy to pay it forward.  I admire you for supporting your son and not undermining his relationship with his dad.

First let me say that at 18 your son can't really grasp the situation, but at 30 he will and he will respect you much more than his pathetic dad. So take the long view here.

Second, there are more than 3 options here. Millions of kids work hard to get into college with families who cannot afford to pay for them. I would not personally burden my own son with ANY loans, which will cripple many years of his life. It's also bad modeling. Loans at grad school may be okay, but they are unecessary for college and it's a good time to teach your son to make smart financial decisions. The easiest and most clear course for him is to learn that there are BIG consequences to his dad's actions. You can explain this in an educational and neutral way. Sit down with him and explain that you love him to pieces but you can't take this on alone, and you refuse to have him take on loans. He will thank you later. He can immediately enter a really strong CA community college - even one a distance away that has on campus living, like City College Santa Barbara. Have him do the awesome TAG program which will guarantee admission to many UC's with a reasonable GPA. Or if he has his heart set on UCLA there's the Transfer Alliance Program TAP, which is similar. I'm not super familiar with these programs but I know several VERY successful adults who took this course.

I actually faced a very similar situ when I was about to enter college. My plans to attend Georgetown ended and I had to wait a few months to apply elsewhere. So I went to College of Marin and eventually applied to UCB and graduated from there. It was traumatic but I survived and had a much more realistic vision of my parents, and zero student debt. Unlike my brother who paid off modest student loans until he was 50 years old. 

Your ex sounds like a truly terrible person. I, too, would feel enraged listening to he and your son have delightful daily phone calls. I don't have any advice on how to purge the resentment but I do have a few thoughts about paying for college.

1. If you haven't already, consider trying at least once to talk with your ex about this. Rather than a confrontation try asking him what his thoughts are about college in general, whether he had an alternative idea in mind for your son, if he might help pay if it were community college for the first two years, etc.

2. If your ex's answer continues to be that he's just not paying for a thing I think you should reconsider your determination to pay for it all yourself. Nobody wants their kid to graduate with a bunch of debt of course but I'm worried you are imaging that graduating debt-free guarantees he will be able to live independently. I can't tell you how many people I know whose kids—who had school entirely paid for by parents and have no disabilities making life more difficult—still move back home because they don't feel able to make it out in the world.

3. Every financial counselor I have ever heard speak about this issue says it's a terrible mistake to mortgage your life to pay for your kid's college. Also it sounds like your son may not be in a position to help you as you age which means you're going to need to save everything you can to fund your senior years. Put your own oxygen mask on first!

4. Congratulations are certainly due to your son for getting accepted to a 4-year college. But not everyone who gets accepted decides to go once they look at the reality of the student debt they are taking on. If your son doesn't want to take on his own debt to pay for school, congratulate him again on a wise decision and help him look into some trade schools. Electricians in the Bay Area are making 200k+ right now.

A couple things to know: 1) while some private colleges assess the resources of both parents, others, including UC, follow the federal formula and only count the resources of the parent with whom the student has lived most of the time. (This includes child support payments and also the resources of a stepparent.) 2) Don’t assume the aid package from all schools will be similar. An option might be to take a gap year and apply to more schools to be in a position to compare offers. 3) All colleges can override their formulas on a cases by cases basis with a “professional judgment” or PJ to deal with special circumstances. Many of these relate to this situation, which is sometimes called the Phantom PC (or Parent Contribution) because all aid formulas expect parents to contribute and when they refuse, it creates problems. Your son’s disability and his father’s withdrawal of support might combine to create the circumstances for a PJ. Another common reason for a PJ is when the look-back tax year is not expected to predict the coming year, which might apply given the sudden withdrawal of financial support. 4) Two years at community college followed by transfer can significantly reduce costs. This might be worth considering. 

 If none of this helps, I do think your son should understand that his father’s choice not to pay will create a significant debt burden for him. I don’t think you should have to pay for his father’s part; in doing do, you’re basically subsidizing whatever luxuries or savings he is prioritizing over his son’s future. Everyone involved should be clear that the hole in finding is due to the father’s refusal to cover what is widely considered to be a parent’s responsibility. 

Congrats on your son getting into college- that is a huge deal. I'm kind of in a similar boat as you, I've been left holding bill for my daughter, who adores her dad. I am looking into lawyers to see if there is any recourse to take him to court to pay something (maybe garnish wages?). I don't want to ruin their relationship but I am kind of resentful that there are no consequences for him and that she thinks he is the bees knees. i would never say this to her and would never bad mouth her dad but am anxious/curious to see what will happen if I can find a lawyer to work with me. I don't really have advice per se other than seeing if there are any legal options for you and to make sure you're in therapy about your feelings.

I'm sorry you are in this situation; your ex is an <expletive deleted>.

I'm on vacation with my financial planner sister and read your message to her. Her first response was that you seem to have a pretty good grasp of your options. She suggested that you talk to your son's HS guidance counselor (assuming staff hasn't headed home for summer yet), talk to the financial aid office at his college to explain the changed circumstances to see if more aid can be found, look at the possibility of state programs since your son is disabled (my sister isn't from CA so didn't know specific programs but noted that the state has a vested interest in helping disabled adults become independent). She also suggested you could contact your son's paternal grandparents if they are living. I don't know if your son has contact with them, but they might step up when they find out that their son has washed his hands of helping pay for his son's college.

You should also review your divorce degree to see if there were any stipulations for support after age 18. It is not uncommon for college costs to be addressed in a divorce agreement; they were in mine.

Good luck.

First of all, I want to punch this guy on your behalf. Have you asked him the "why" of this decision? Is it a notion of self-sufficiency or just lack of caring? 

I don't think it's necessarily harmful to your son if you express your true feelings, in the spirit of "good people can make bad choices" or choices that hurt/harm others. Learning to love someone, faults and all - or choose not to - is obviously a key lesson. This could help him think about each of your parenting styles and what he may want to adopt or not if he ever becomes a parent. It may be important for him to realize that his father may not be there for him in ways he might expect. - not a therapist

Your ex sounds like a real jerk. Is there any possibility to have a mediation with him about this? But what I signed in to say is, college may not be as expensive as you think. As a single parent you should qualify for a good amount of financial aid. California also has an affordable option which is community college (free or very low cost) then transfer in to UC or CSU as a junior. Our kid was also able to work and save $$ for 4-year college while living at home attending cc for 2 years, and as a transfer student he got into his first choice UC. WIth a bit of financial aid and his summer and school year earnings, he's been able to pay his own rent and incidental expenses; EBT covers food (if student gets work-study they automatically qualify for EBT.) We only cover his car expenses (so he can come home easily!), phone, apt. deposit, occasional extras, and the part of his in-state tuition that is not covered by financial aid. He is graduating debt free.

I think you need to talk to a lawyer about this.  You have a child with a disability and there was a child support agreement that didn't touch on college or post-18 yr old care?  Seems odd.  Or, there was no formal agreement?  Maybe now is the time to get one.  If there is no possibility of that, I would sit down with your kid and explain that you can only afford to pay for your half of college expenses, and so he will have to take out loans for his dad's half.  I would label it that way. I would have him be involved in seeing the expenses.  I would also make sure he gets summer jobs with your help to pay the interest during school so it doesn't pile up.  Whether or not you actually have him pay the loans or you decide to help with that after college ends is a different question but make sure he understands and knows the financial obligations along the way.  You can always help with the payments if you are able to make them manageable.  Who knows, maybe in the face of loans in your son's name, his father will step up.  Or, explain that he can't go to a 4 year college because his father isn't paying his half, but that community college then a transfer is an option.  You don't have to feel resentment, but you shouldn't go into debt you can't afford because of a deadbeat dad.  He can still have great options at a cheaper price.

My thought is that you need to consider your own financial situation. You could end up putting your ability to retire and stay in your home at risk. Perhaps your son could do a year or two at community college before going off to a residential University. At the least, he could take a gap year while you redo the FAFSA application. He might be unable to pay back loans after graduation— looking at my offspring’s cohort who went to highly selective Universities, many have ended up in intenships, or in poorly paid careers. Unless your child is pursuing a future in tech, and seems potentially very employable, the first few years after college could be financially precarious. 

I disagree with you that "my problem is my feelings about all this."  Taking out a home equity loan is a mistake.  Taking money out of retirement savings is a mistake.  You can't afford to.  What we did in almost the same situation:  my son went to community college for 2 years.  FAFSA uses the custodial parent's finances in general (your circumstances may differ), so my son got aid.  He applied for every scholarship he could find.  He's going to UCLA as a transfer student in the fall, and he will graduate in 2 years.  

My son knows I will be there for him, no matter what.  When I read stories of parents who took out loans to pay for the kids' educations, my hair stood on end.  I had to tell my son, "there's no money for private school."  You're doing right by your son in always supporting him, whatever the deal is with his dad.  Know that deep down your son trusts you, even if it seems like he treats his dad better.

I had the same situation with both of my kids although only one had a learning disability.

I sucked it up and am still paying their student loans as I promised them we would cover college. 

it is shitty but I knew I wanted my kids to attend college so I just did it.

am I resentful? Yes. But carrying that around is unhealthy so try to let it go and know that I did right by my kids.

good luck!