Putting children through college has become so expensive that many couples begin planning for college savings before they ever even get pregnant with their first child. Other than saving for retirement, saving for a child's college education will likely be the largest savings effort you make in your life.
Even if your child goes to an affordable state or community college, a single year's tuition could likely exceed the down payment you saved for your home. Given that student loans can hamper someone's economic prospects for decades, helping your child out is often the best way for them to secure a good start to their career.
Covering the cost of college can become infinitely more complicated if you get divorced while your children are still in school. As a parent in Virginia who wants the best for your children, you may wonder what options you have to help fund higher education.
In some cases, the courts could require ongoing support
Did your spouse make specific promises to you or your children regarding their ability to attend specific colleges? Has there always been an expectation that both parents would help pay for college costs? Is your spouse in a financial situation where they could much more easily contribute to the costs of higher education than you can? Is there something about education in your prenuptial agreement?
All of these considerations and more will impact whether or not the courts will order child support related to college. It is important to understand that such orders are unusual, even if they are sometimes possible.
Child support in Virginia usually terminates when a child reaches 18 years of age or finishes high school if they are still enrolled on their 18th birthday. However, it may be possible to ask the courts to order additional support in specific circumstances.
Can you reach an informal agreement or earmark assets for your child?
Is it possible to get your spouse to agree to child support for college outside of court? While they may not order it on their own, they may enforce an agreement that you and your spouse reach independent of the courts. Is it possible for you to compromise on another issue and motivate your spouse to work with you and put the children first? If so, then you and your lawyer may want to treat that as a priority in your negotiations.
If your ex isn't willing to work with you on support issues, you may be able to plan ahead without their assistance. As you divide assets in the divorce, you could put some of them aside in special accounts or even into a trust to protect them for future use for educational purposes. Your lawyer may be able to assist you in negotiating this complicated process, as well as in negotiating a fair arrangement with your ex regarding child support.