College is a big expense for anyone, and divorced parents may wonder how they are expected to pay for their child’s college tuition. Ideally, parents who divorce will decide together how they will save for and handle their children’s college costs in the future. Unfortunately, the issue of college tuition can also become a contentious issue to work out during divorce, along with child support, custody, and spousal support.
College Costs in Missouri
Parents have financial responsibility for their children. In Missouri, it’s not mandatory for divorced parents to be responsible for college tuition. However, the court can order parents to contribute to college funds. If the custodial parent wants the non-custodial parent to contribute to expenses, both parents can either come to an agreement or the custodial parent can request that the judge decide. The judge will hear both sides and determine the right course of action. If the court orders one parent to contribute to tuition, this may affect the child support payment orders.
When Child Support Continues After the Age of 18
Under Missouri law, child support payments can be continued past high school if the child attends college, a university, or a vocational school. These payments last until the child is 21. If parents are ordered to contribute to college expenses, these payments would also last until they turn 21. Child support continues to pay for housing expenses, utilities, transportation, and other essential costs.
When Can a Divorced Parent Be Responsible for College Costs?
Certain conditions must be met for a non-custodial parent to be considered responsible for child support and college costs. This includes:
- The child must be enrolled in at least 12 credits per semester. This doesn’t include summer semesters.
- If the child is working at least 15 hours a week, they must be enrolled in 9 credits per semester.
- The child needs to pass the minimum required number of credit hours. A failing grade would mean the end of any support obligation.
- The child has to enroll in college the October following high school graduation. If the child doesn’t enroll until the semester after, there will likely be no obligation from the non-custodial parent, even if the child is under 21.
- The child has to provide each parent with transcripts to show enrollment and grades.
- In most cases, the child must remain enrolled and cannot take semesters off.
How Courts Determine College Contributions
The Missouri court will primarily look at the income and resources each parent has when determining what contributions each parent should make to college payments. A parent with limited resources or income will unlikely be expected to contribute.
The court will also look at other factors, such as:
- The child’s needs and interests
- The child’s independent resources
- The family’s expectations for education, within reason
- The financial ability of both parties
A parent who cannot pay for college costs will not be ordered to, though it will be up to the judge in the case as to what is affordable for a parent and what is not.
Will College Contribution Obligations Change Child Support Payments?
Your family’s specific circumstances and the judge’s discretion in your case will determine how child support payments are impacted by college contributions.
Custodial parents will often claim that their expenses only increase while paying for college costs on top of a child’s usual residency while not at school, and therefore child support should remain the same. Non-custodial parents often claim that some costs of both child support and college contributions overlap, such as food and housing, and that child support should be reduced.
Extraordinary expenses, like the cost of education, are a determining factor when making child support payments. The judge will determine what is reasonable and will look at factors such as each parent’s income. If one parent makes substantially more, they may be expected to pay for more or all of these college expenses. If both parents have similar incomes, each will likely be expected to contribute a similar amount, and the child will contribute to their own college expenses when in college.
Q: Do Parents Have to Pay for Their Kids’ College?
A: Parents in Missouri are not required to pay for their child’s college. Divorced parents are also not automatically required to cover college costs. If a separation agreement states that both parents will contribute to college tuition, they are legally obligated to do so. In Missouri, the court can also order the non-custodial parent to contribute funds to their child’s college costs. Whether the court assigns this will depend on your family’s unique situation.
Q: Who Pays for College When Parents Are Divorced?
A: During the divorce process, college tuition is a topic that should be discussed if children are young or will soon be attending college. Ideally, parents would come to an agreement on a certain amount they are willing to pay or the level of financial responsibility they each have. If children are very young, keep in mind that the income of each parent could change in the years before college tuition is needed. A mediation attorney can help parents determine an effective compromise.
Q: Do Kids Get More Financial Aid If Their Parents Are Divorced?
A: Depending on the student’s living situation, they may receive more financial aid. If the child’s parents are divorced, and are not living together, the child needs to show the income of the parent they have lived with for the past year, or the parent who has provided them with the most financial support, on their financial aid applications. If you live with a parent who has a lower income, you may receive more financial aid support.
Q: Which Parent in Divorce Fills Out FAFSA?
A: The custodial parent fills out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) if a student’s parents are separated. A student’s custodial parent is the parent they have primarily lived with for the last 12 months, which may not be the parent who has legal custody. If a student lived with both parents equally, the custodial parent would be the one they received more financial support from.
Contact Stange Law Firm in Springfield
If you are trying to determine a plan for your child’s education, it’s important that you and your child’s interests are supported. You may need support order modifications or legal advocacy during divorce mediations. Contact Stange Law Firm for exceptional legal representation.