When children of divorcing parents are minors, the court will address their needs through financial support from both parents. However, when the child graduates from high school, who is responsible for college expenses?

In an ideal world, parents can work together to pay for the education their child deserves. Here are some tools for making that happen.

The court order

Parents can include college expense contributions in their child support order. If one parent is unwilling to participate, the other could still ask the judge to order contributions as part of child support. In New Jersey, the court has the discretion to order that a parent pay child support throughout college. Judges consider these factors and others as they apply to the situation:

  • How committed and able the child is to follow through with the desired education
  • How much money the child needs for the desired education
  • Whether the parent has the ability to pay
  • Whether the parent would have contributed if the marriage remained intact
  • What financial resources and potential earnings the child has
  • What financial aid is available

A 529 account

A 529 account is a college-specific savings plan. When the time comes, parents can withdraw the money without taxes as long as they use it exclusively to pay college education expenses.

Only one of the co-parents can own the plan, but the other can be on the plan as an authorized user. That parent can view the account statements but cannot make changes. If there is a lack of trust between parents, determining who will be the owner may be a struggle.

Financial aid

The form that future college students fill out to determine financial aid availability will require the income information from the custodial parent. If the child is close to high school graduation at the time of the divorce, parents may want to consider which one of them will be more likely to receive more financial aid when they are negotiating custody.

Keeping the best interests of the child at the forefront of the discussion is the key to protecting his or her education and future.