Paying for College when Parents are Divorced

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Second marriage - financial aid/money planning

Oct 2011

I am a single mom with three girls, 15 and under, and am about to get married for the second time. He has two grown kids. I am a financial neanderthal and need both recommendations and guidance on how to begin planning. If I had 1000 dollars I would go to a CPA but I don't. Neither us owns a house. We have some retirement, but that is about it. I understand there are more drawbacks than benefits for marriage, financially speaking. My biggest concern is financial aid for my kids when they go to college. He makes about 150K. I make 100K. I was told that if we get married, even if we have a pre-nup, and he does not adopt my kid and even if he will NOT pay for my kids college, colleges will consider his tax returns anyway. Thoughts? We can have a wedding ceremony in front of family, friends and our god but I certainly don't have to register it with the government, do I? What am I giving up I don't? Who should I talk to, what books should I read, and what would you do? Am I being silly? Thank you much, smarter the second time

Talk to a financial aid counselor at a nearby college for current advice. I used to work in financial and at that time, the step-parents' income was considered when calculating parent contribution. That was part of the federal formula and I think it probably still is. The federal formula will determine eligibility for federal aid (subsidized loans, Pell, etc.) and many but by no means all colleges follow it to a large extent in their own packaging. Anon

Financial aid in a divorce situation

Sept 2010

My 17 yr old AHS senior is applying to colleges right now. He is applying to public and private schools. I have had full custody (physical and legal) of him since he was 6 yrs old. About 2 yrs ago Dad started paying child support- $500/ month. Dad earns about 85K a year and I earn about 90K. Dad just informed me that he has no plans to pay for college beyond the current $500/ month. I am incredibly frustrated but here is my question. When one applies for financial aid-can I explain that I am the sole provider even though Dad actually earns decent money? Will they believe me? I know that once child is 18 he is not required to pay anything and we don't have a legal agreement about college. I don't want my son to waste time/ money applying to places that we know we cannot afford or that we won't get any financial aid. Additional information-have another child college bound in 2 yrs as well. Thanks in advance for your advice and/or personal experiences in this area. frustrated mom

This is so frustrating, and I have heard the same story so many times. A good friend of mine went to school supported by his mom and utterly ignored by his well-to-do Dad, though the financial aid office counted dad's income. Argh. Outcome: friend does not speak to dad. You might ask your son's dad if he would enjoy that outcome, because kids at 17 and up are completely aware of how they are being cheated by parents. And I would see a lawyer. I don't know about child support after 18 (it stops then, ordinarily, I think), but it would be worth it to see if you have any legal recourse. And thanks for the heads-up -- I may be in a similar situation in about five years, so I need to talk to a lawyer too. tired of jerky, selfish dads

For the teen who wants to go to college, parents divorced & needs financial aid: Apply to whatever colleges you want to go to, and don't worry how much they cost. Financial aid is not just a cut-and-dried figure; it depends on many factors. Some colleges only count the custodial parent's income; others need financial information from both parents (even if only 1 is paying for college). Go to and to to get more information about the financial aid process. On, type in ''CSS Profile'' and ''IDOC'' These are both more extensive financial aid applications that some colleges require).Some private colleges will provide quite generous scholarships because they have endowments. Getting these scholarships depend on good SAT scores and good GPA's; not just parent's income. Tell your child to keep up their grades, study hard and get good SAT scores. Apply to 7 or 8 colleges, so that when the acceptance letters start rolling in, you will be able to make a decision based on where you want to go and what is the best fit for you. Good luck! DC parent of a college freshman

Even if you were claiming just your salary, you would not be eligible for any state or federal grants. The best to hope for are sponsored student loans, which have a lower interest rate. Be glad for that $500 a month from dad. It will cover 1/2 of your child's room and board at a state school. If your child is a talented writer, artist or very good in a sport, there is a hope of getting a scholarship, but none of the young men or women my daughter graduated with received a sports scholarship. Some of the small liberal arts or Christian colleges in the mid-west came through with scholarships and grants. My daughter has friends going to school in WI, IA and OK. She's at Humboldt and very happy we can afford the tuition with what we saved and what we earn. Yes, it would have been fun to see if she could get into Sarah Lawrence or Lewis & Clark, but I think it would have disappointed her when we couldn't afford $50,000 a year. Good luck to you and your son. Jenny

You need Frances Fee. She is a financial expert and was an incredible force counseling me so that I was able to obtain the aid I needed, each year. She knows all about how a divorce impacts financial aid. Her fees are very reasonable. I just can't rave enough about her. You can reach her at ffee [at] A very grateful mother

You need to talk to a professional. I suggest Paul Wrubel. Paul R Wrubel & Associates 411 Borel Ave, San Mateo, CA 94402-3522 p: 650 349 4200 Your ex husbands income is considered too. Actually his new wifes income may be considered too. The FAFSA and The Common Application may be both required for some schools. Only the common ap for some and only the FAFSA for some including the UCs. I have one son who just graduated from UCSD and a Jr at a private school in Ohio. He is applying to the United States Naval Academy. If he gets in I am done with FAFSA and the Common Ap. Hurray! I have got through the last five years of dealing with financial aid only due to the help of Paul Wrubel. david

Divorced parents split son's college expenses?

March 2007

My son has been admitted to some UC's for fall of 2007 which is good news. I broached the topic of how we're going to pay for college with my ex-husband today. As I expected, he thinks its fair that I pay for most of the college expenses since he makes less money and has fewer assets. I think it would be fair for us each to pay half because we've both known that we'd have college expenses starting in 2007 and because we've had equal opportunity to work hard and save money over the 13 years since our divorce. I don't want to just roll over and pay more because I can but I especially don't want to hurt my kid because of this dispute. How have others handled paying for college with an ex? should I shield my son from this issue even if the only way not to include him may be to pay whatever my ex won't? I appreciate any suggestions or even commiseration! anonymous

Like yourself, I am a divorced mother of a college age teen. I have been working 60 hours weeks for a long time while my ex chose a job with half less hours and three months vacation each year. Not surprisingly, he is paid less money and has fewer assets. I have consulted with well recommended (and expensive) attorney and was told that unless the college payment agreement was a part of a court filed divorce settlement, my ex does not have to pay a penny of tuition. I would suggest to pay what you can get your ex to agree to at the moment, and after the first year ask your son to take out a student loan guaranteed by both parents (and he will need to obtain your ex's signature) divorced mom

I think that the fairest way to do this is to do a little arithmetic and take the after-tax incomes of the two of you, add them together, and determine the percentages each of you contribute to the total. That percentage is the percentage that you each should contribute to the college costs. Thus, if your percentage of the total income of both of you is 60%, you should pay for 60% of the college costs. Robert

My ex and I agreed verbally that we would split tuition for an out-of-state university for our son, which, with cheaper cost of living, was about the same as the UCs. I make more than my ex, but I felt, like you, that we had both expected to have this expense eventually. It's only 4 years of belt tightening, and I wanted my ex to have a stake in our son's education. My ex and I have both remarried, my current husband has a good job, my ex's wife has family money. So this seemed fair. I managed all the paperwork, I paid the first semester, he paid the second, and I paid the third, and then in the middle of our son's sophomore year, with payment a week overdue, he told me that he could not afford any more college tuition. He said that our son should instead take out student loans like both of us did. Well, this left our son unable to register for classes, so I paid, and I ended up paying for the rest of college. Our son graduated college almost 2 years ago - his dad didn't visit him even once in four years or go to the graduation. His loss. I think in retrospect that this was the right decision and I'm happy that my son doesn't have to spend years paying off college loans like we did, and that I didn't have to get into a big fight with his dad to make things more equitable. Mom who's OK with it

My situation is somewhat similar in that my ex makes more money and has more assets; although I got the house in the divorce. Our son is in an an out of state uiversity, and has gotten some small grants and worked as his schedule permitted. We did not not allow him to work his freshman year. We basically agreed to pay 50/50 . . . splitting tuition, rent, food, limited spending money and travel. The ex also pays for cell phone, car, insurance, clothes, books, etc. The son usually makes enough from his job to pay for gas, car maintenance, personal items, etc. We determine as needed how to handle unexpected expenses, extra curricular costs, etc. I feel the arrangement is fair. I lost my job the first year our son was away in college and the ex offered to help as much as he could and has been generous though grumbling on occasion. He has subsequently paid more than I have. I came into a small inheritance and gave a token monetary ''Thank You'' to him for his support. I've also used some of the equity in the house to pay my share of the bills. We all have struggles, make choices and often one has more resources than the other. This isn't the time for a tit for tat power play over who does/has what and the choices they have made. Since it wasn't spelled out in the divorce settlement . . . pay the portion that you feel is in the best interest of your son with the resources each of you has. This can always be supplemented with loans, grants and a job for your son. He however should not in any way be put in the middle of this. Our children are our future and since your family clearly values education; set the example by not financially compromising what that future will hold. I hope it works out well for all of you. Anonymous