Top 5 Things to Consider about Paying for College in a Virginia Divorce Proceeding
If you’re getting divorced in Virginia and have minor or college-age children, paying for higher education expenses can be a significant issue. Here are the top five things you should know about college expenses and divorce:
1. A Court Can’t Order You to Pay for College Tuition.
In Virginia, a court cannot require either parent in a divorce proceeding to pay for their children’s college expenses. If the parties have a written agreement to pay for their children’s college expenses the court can enforce that agreement. But absent such an agreement, the court has no authority to require either or both of the parties to pay for college. If you want your spouse to agree to contribute to college costs, it’s only logical that he or she would seek to require you to do the same. So the first question you have to ask is: do I want us both to be contractually bound to pay college expenses?
2. If You Do Agree, What Are You Agreeing To?
If you agree to cover college expenses, your agreement should be clear on exactly what is covered. Tuition only? Or something more expansive, such as tuition, room and board, required fees, spending money, travel costs to and from home, etc.? Do you cap these costs at the cost of the current flagship state institution (i.e. UVA at Charlottesville) or have no cap? Does your agreement cover the costs of a community college or trade school?
3. Are There Any Obligations Placed on the Child?
Children sometimes choose a path their parents don’t support. Should one or both parents have “veto power” over where a child attends college? Should the agreement require payment of college costs so long as a child maintains a certain grade point average? Should payment be capped at four years?
4. How Much College and Other Savings Do You Have?
Financial circumstances can change. The more savings you already have built up, the more confident you can be that you’ll have sufficient funds to fund your obligation. Remember, college can be financed with student loans. Your retirement can’t.
5. How Old Are the Children?
The age of your children should factor into your decision. Not only can your financial circumstances change as your children age, but your children themselves will change, and your ability to parent them as teenagers may be affected by a decision to fully cover college costs made long before. You may, for example, want to require your child to contribute to his or her own education costs by working part-time, but be unable to enforce such a requirement because of your divorce agreement to cover those costs.
Paying for college is just one of the many factors that can complicate your divorce proceeding in Virginia. With these considerations in mind, you can be better equipped to make the right decisions for you and your children both today and in the future.