College education and parenting has been in the news a lot lately. Not for good reasons. The recent college admissions scandal has many of us reeling. It has shocked the conscience of many parents to read the various news articles portraying the illegal actions A-list parents have taken to gain admission for their child into top schools.
In the context of divorce, college education and expenses should be discussed by parents. If possible, parents should present a unified front regarding their family’s values and plans for college education and expenses.
If parents share legal custody and are joint decision-makers, education is a major decision on which their custody order would generally require full discussion and agreement. If parents do not agree, they can seek guidance from a Court or attend mediation to decide education issues for the minor child. These major decisions, for example, could include whether the child attends elementary school – public home school, magnet or charter school, private school or boarding school, etc. If the child is struggling with academics, major decisions could include whether the child needs tutoring or to change schools. When it comes to college, if the child is over the age of 18 and has graduated from high school, the child is no longer a minor and would be his or her own decision-maker.
North Carolina law does not require parents to pay for college education. However, parents may agree to pay college expenses. If parents desire, a college education and expense provision can be included in their separation agreement. This allows parents to know, at the time they separate or prior to divorce, how college will be handled. One parent may agree to pay for all of the child’s college expenses, parents may agree to share the cost of college or parents may decide to apply trust funds, 529 accounts or other invested funds to the payment of college. Parents may also decide not to include the provision at all and may still agree later to paying for or sharing college expenses.
Parents may want to pay for their child’s college expenses but may not want to pay for the most expensive college education money can buy. In the college expense provision in their separation agreement, parents may cap the amount of money that will be paid for college expenses. For example, oftentimes in North Carolina separation agreements, a North Carolina-Chapel Hill rule is applied. This means that the parents agree to pay college expenses at the rate required for in-state tuition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at any school the child attends.
If parents include a college expense provision in their separation agreement, they can also include a definition of college expenses. This can include expenses beyond tuition such as room and board, books, study abroad, etc.
We can’t always know what the future holds for our children, but we can and perhaps should agree as parents — especially if going through separation and divorce — as to how we want to handle matters such as payment of college education – now and not in the future.
For more blog posts by Rebecca B. Wofford, visit Rebecca’s blog Parenting Out of the Trenches at https:/