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After Divorce, Who Pays for College? 3 Tips for Parents

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Divorce can be excruciating for parents, and deciding who pays what for college can be a major battle.

But don't let college tuition become your divorce Waterloo. Keep these three tips in mind when deciding who pays for college after a divorce:

1. Negotiate College Tuition in Your Divorce Settlement.

There are a number of things to negotiate in a divorce settlement agreement, and making sure that college tuition will be there for your kid(s) is one of them. One divorce attorney tells Reuters that it's best to get all the details -- including how much each ex-spouse will contribute for college -- down from the start.

You can always go back and revisit the issue of tuition later if financial situations have changed, but having something about college tuition in your divorce settlement agreement will provide a good baseline.

2. Address College Funds Too -- and Don't Forget 529 Plans.

Any investments or savings begun during your marriage will likely be considered marital property, so your children's college funds need to be addressed in your property settlement agreement. If you have a 529 savings plan, you should determine a protocol with your ex-spouse for how to address future deposits or withdrawals from the account.

U.S. News and World Report suggests freezing the account, which will prevent a spouse from withdrawing a child's future college funds. A judge could potentially split the 529 plan as well, allowing each ex-spouse to contribute equally to his or her own half.

3. Determine Who Fills Out Financial Aid Paperwork.

If your child wants to apply for financial aid, you'll need to fill out your FAFSA forms ASAP. The custodial parent is responsible for filling out federal student aid paperwork, but this can be complicated if custody situations are in flux. Forbes notes that the custodial parent is the one with whom the child has lived for the last 12-month period.

The custodial parent is the one whose financials will be used to calculate federal financial aid, which may affect your child's eligibility for financial aid. Make sure you and your ex-spouse communicate about this eventuality and reach an agreement about what to do if a college wants both parents' financial information.

Figuring out who pays for college after a divorce can be complicated. That's why you'll want to discuss these issues with your divorce attorney and ideally your ex-spouse to ensure your children will be covered for college.

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