Paying for College when Parents are Divorced

Parent Q&A

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  • 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!

    Thanks.

    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.

  • I was divorced about 14 years ago and I have one child, age 19. When it was time to start looking at colleges, his father, who has held an executive position for many years, announced that he had “no money” for college. He flatly refused to help. Our son was admitted to a university abroad with a tuition scholarship. He was planning to fund his living expenses with my help and a loan, split 50/50. 

    Then, his father announced that he was coming to visit. Our son confronted him with the fact that international travel is quite expensive and if he has the money to do that, then he could help with college costs. After some drama, his father agreed to pay half of our son’s costs of living, which is quite low compared to what it would be in the U.S.

    The problem is, they get in arguments about this every month where Dad foot-drags, complains, makes angry (and sometimes strange) accusations, and sends the wrong amount. Our son’s stress level spikes every month when his monthly payments are due and I am starting to worry about his mental health.

    Also, this pattern is long-standing with his father. He did the same thing with child support. My son is asking me for help managing this conflict but I do not know what to tell him. I ended up getting a court order for child support and having payments managed by the county.
     

    Ugh, I am sorry for both you and your son. I would be honest with your son (if you have been shielding him thus far) and let him know you had to get a court order for basic child support, so obviously you have no influence over his father to convince him to... be a responsible father. Maybe help your son develop a basic budget that doesn't rely on his father's contribution, so if his dad comes through with anything, it's like a bonus for extras (which I know, it shouldn't be).

    Clearly, your ex likes to pick fights. This is common narcissistic behavior. You may want to read about narcissists. 

    I see several ways to deal with this, none ideal. One, just refuse to fight with him. When he makes an excuse, just say ok, I'll manage. It may be that he will send the money whether your son begs or not. Or, he may require the begging to send the money. Two, accept that the fight is part of the deal, and try to not get emotionally involved while arguing. Difficult, I know. Try to limit time and place. And try meditating. It helps.  And then three. Apparently he wants to see his son. This is his only bargaining chip. He can use this to his advantage. This must be a rule he can put in place that he can enforce without argument. But the idea is that either the ex sends the agreed upon amount of money on time without argument or he sees less of his son. The exact terms depend on how often your ex likes to visit.

    Narcissists love to use their power to get their family riled up. So breathe and stay calm. Don't allow him to control your emotions. He will never quit trying. But you both will feel better if he is not successful in his efforts. 

    It's hard to know how to be helpful but starting with empathy and then naming some uncomfortable truths or lessons might be. It was very hurtful for your son when his father refused to pay for college initially. I imagine--though you didn't imply this--that your son's father was absent in some other important ways in his life. Allowing your son the space to sit with this re-injury without jumping over his own feelings and going straight to getting your help might be useful for him, if hard. 

    What he stands to learn: People, including parents, have a right to make their own decisions about how they spend their time and money--unless, of course, the law compiles them otherwise. Your son is now 18. He is now responsible for his own expenses--a knowledge that can be hard to grapple with at 18, but one that is necessary to understand in the adulting process.

    Some parents can offer to share the financial burden of college or other training. Others either cannot afford to do so or don't choose to do so. When we try to compel others to do something they don't want to do, there is often a hidden cost. They may end up resenting us, sabotaging what they agreed to by not fully showing up, or even changing their minds altogether. When your son used the argument that traveling in Europe meant that his father had enough money to help him pay for college, he ran the risk we all run in such moments when we try to address old wounds like this. We risk re-injury. We are rarely on solid ground when we try to compel others, and this is an important life lesson. 

    Your original plan did not include support from your son's father. It was really a healthy and wise plan, and it makes sense to implement that it as soon as possible.

    Rather than stepping in and trying to rescue your son or throw your weight around, it is now time for your son to contend with his own relationship with his dad. How can you support him? Validate how hard the situation is and set your own reasonable and loving boundaries: "It really does suck that your Dad foot drags and keeps reneging on his agreement in one way or another. I know it's both hurtful and causes a lot of uncertainty for you. I would feel the same way. Here's what I can do: I'm willing to go back to Plan A with you--to help you get a loan for the other half of your college expenses. What I'm not available for is getting involved with your Dad over financial issues like this. That won't work for me--it's not a battle I can take on. I am happy to sit with you and help while you get the loan application process going. Why don't we make a date to start that after finals....?"

    Be prepared for your son to get angry with YOU for holding a limit like this. He may need to be mad at you for a while. Have faith that your son is capable of learning valuable lessons here. Your ability to sit with your son's discomfort and your own will be good modeling. If he was willing to push his dad this hard, he may be willing to push you hard as well. Keep your feet on the ground and your heart open. The truth is that nobody owes us anything in life after we're 18 years old. Anything we get is a gift. And the sooner we learn this lesson and start the slow process of owning our own lives, the more at peace we will be. Try not to protect your son from the lesson he needs to learn. Just be at his side.

     

    What a crappy situation. This isn’t a true solution, but it would at least limit the drama to do it quarterly or once a semester. Monthly sounds like a hassle even if dad wasn’t being such an ass. 

    There is nothing you can do other than provide wise council and emotional support--like you would for all difficult issues your son faces. Specifically to this, it's best if you stay out and let the two work it out. You ought not to fix it or broker something better. Here's what I learned from a very wise therapist. . . the sooner your son learns exactly who his dad is, the sooner your son will recover from this and move into adulthood with a realistic idea of his dad instead of fantasy idea of his dad. Here's what work best for my son--he stopped depending on dad and walked away. Figured out how to pay for college on his own by attending less expensive schools and working as a tutor. Completely changed the power dynamic and reduced the stress of trying to depend on an undependable person. Consequently, any funds provided were helpful, but not needed.

    This brings up memories.  My dad was not quite as bad but was similar. Money was a form of control.  When I started college he sent me money but made it contingent on certain behaviors.  Without getting into the weeds, I told him to keep his money.  We were estranged for 5 years.  It took him having a heart attack, among other life crises, to wake up and be a human being. Yes, your son can walk away, but don't think it doesn't leave scars. Poor kid.

  • 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.

    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!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions

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 www.fafsa.ed.gov and to www.collegeboard.com to get more information about the financial aid process. On collegeboard.com, 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] comcast.net. 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. www.tuitioncoach.com 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