The cost of college education is becoming more expensive every year, with private universities averaging $40,000 per year and public universities totaling $20,000 per year. Therefore, it is not uncommon for an individual going through a divorce to worry about the payment of this education for their child. Although Florida provides for child support obligations to end after the child reaches the age of 18, there are other ways to navigate a payment arrangement with your spouse for your child’s college education. Discuss these possibilities with your attorney, and they will be able to develop a plan that best fits your family’s needs.
Although in the State of Florida, a parent is not obligated to pay for a child’s college education, many decide to aid, if not fully finance these costs for their child. However, if you do wish to aid in your child’s future education with the assistance of your coparent, it is important to develop terms in your settlement agreement. Because Florida Statute does not require a parent to be financially obligated for a child after the age of 18, a Judge may not place terms of college educational funding into a child support award. Therefore, you and your spouse must voluntarily negotiate an agreement outside of a child support order, regarding the financial terms of the college education and division of the funds necessary.
In order for these terms to be validly enforceable by a court, the agreement must be clear and specific. The terms that may be necessary include: where the payments will be made, when the payments will be made, which party or if both parties are obligated, how long the parties will be responsible, what specific costs will be covered, and any conditions you want to set on the support.
One of the most important details to note in this agreement is to specifically designate the responsible parties. If only one parent will be responsible for the college financial obligations then clearly state the name of the obligated party. If both parties are responsible, state both names, and the percentage to which they are responsible. After designating the responsibility, decide where the payments will be made. Will one parent make the whole tuition payment to the school and be reimbursed by the other, or will both make the payments directly to the university. After deciding where payments will be made, determine what date the payments are due. The date of the payments may need to be broken down into semesters, or you may desire a full payment upfront at the beginning of each academic year. You also will need to determine how long you will be obligated to these support payments for college. Some students engage in a 2 year degree while others obtain multiple degrees spanning 8 years of schooling. It may be important to limit the number of years or level of degree you and your spouse are willing to pay for as to set clear expectations early on. You will also need to negotiate what the funds will be used for. College expenses can include tuition, room and board, books, supplies, daily living expenses. With such a broad range of expenses, it will be crucial to indicate what the funds provided are to cover. Finally, you may wish to place limits on the funding of the college education for your child. You can ask for access to the school records to keep up to date on their grades and progress as well as requiring certain GPA or grades within their classes. Parents may also choose to require the child to enroll in a certain number of classes or credit hours each semester and attend a certain percentage of their classes. You and your spouse have a great deal of freedom when negotiating and contracting these terms. Therefore, it is important to take your time and weigh all the necessary options and terms.
If you and your spouse wish to provide for your child’s college, it is important to draw out an agreement with specific and enforceable language, as the court is unable to do so for you. Therefore, employing an experienced attorney to represent you in your divorce and draft a clear, valid and enforceable settlement agreement between you and your spouse is invaluable.
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