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Who Pays For a Child’s College Expenses if the Parents Have Divorced?

When determining child support to be paid following a divorce, one of the significant questions that arises is how a child’s college expenses will be covered. Under Michigan law, both parents must share in the financial support of their child, but child support terminates when a child reaches the age of 18 or completes high school, which means that college tuition and related costs are not considered a part of either parent’s obligations.

This stark reality can come as a shock if parents don’t plan ahead. Michigan law provides that child support “may include expenses of medical, dental and other health care, childcare, and education.” Parents might assume that “education” includes payment for college expenses as well, but the law makes clear that educational expenses are those related to a child’s school attendance up to age 18. This can be extended to the age of 19 and a half, but only if necessary for the child to finish high school.

Divorcing parents who have an expectation that their children will attend college need to negotiate a plan for how those educational expenses will be financed. A divorce settlement agreement can stipulate the amount that each parent will contribute to college costs and set any limitation on that obligation. If such an agreement is signed by both parties and made part of the divorce judgment, Michigan courts will enforce it if one parent later objects to paying.

If you and your spouse are negotiating the terms of your divorce settlement, you should discuss with your divorce attorney what language might be included concerning shared payment of college expenses. For example, the agreement can set a per diem amount that either parent will pay while the child is in college. The payments may be limited to the number of semesters or trimesters that it takes for the child to complete a four-year college education. The amount paid is typically geared to the costs of tuition, housing and related expenses, which must be estimated based on economic projections. Depending on your family circumstances, you might provide for contingencies, such as either parent’s significant loss of income or improved financial situation. The overall goal should be to ensure that your child is able to obtain a college degree without taking on significant debt.

At Dawson Family Law PLLC in Sterling Heights, Michigan, we frequently work with divorcing parents to negotiate agreements covering future college expenses. To talk with an attorney about your options, call our office at 833-671-4445 or contact us online.

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