Divorced Parents and Child College Expenses
Paying for college tuition, books, fees and room and board expenses can cause financial hardship for all parents. When parents are divorced or going through the divorce process, paying for college expenses can be a source of major controversy. However, Colorado child support law is clear concerning divorced parents’ or unmarried parents’ obligation to contribute to college expenses. The basic rules are:
- The Court cannot order the parents to pay for college expenses if the original child support order was entered on after July 1, 1997 – unless the parties agree in written document (for example a Separation Agreement, a Parenting Plan or Stipulation) filed with the Court after July 1, 1997.
- If a child support obligation was established or modified prior to July 1, 1997, the Court can order the parents to pay for college expenses.
- The Court cannot order a parent to pay for college expenses for a child at the same time as the parent is paying child support for that child.
- The Court cannot order college expenses to be paid after the child reaches age 21.
- A college expense order can be modified by the Court or by mutual agreement of the parents.
- College expenses can include tuition, books and fees. A Court can’t order the parties to pay for room and board at college, unless the parents agree.
College is referred to in Colorado child support law as “postsecondary education,” and includes college and vocational education programs. Under Colorado law “postsecondary education support” means support for the following expenses associated with attending a college, university, or vocational education program: Tuition, books, and fees.
Child Support Orders Entered Before July 1, 1997
If the court finds that it is appropriate for the parents to contribute to the costs of a program of postsecondary education, then the court shall terminate child support and enter an order requiring both parents to contribute a sum determined to be reasonable for the education expenses of the child, taking into account the resources of each parent and the child.
In determining the amount of each parent’s contribution to the costs of a program of postsecondary education for a child, the court shall be limited to an amount not to exceed the basic child support obligations for the number of children receiving postsecondary education. For example, if child support for a the college student would have been $100.00 per month, the college expense order cannot exceed $100.00 per month.
If such an order is entered, the parents shall contribute to the total sum determined by the court in proportion to their adjusted gross incomes. The amount of contribution that each parent is ordered to pay for college expenses shall be subtracted from the amount of each parent’s gross income, respectively, prior to calculating the basic child support obligation for any remaining children.
Either parent or the child may file a motion with the court for a college expense order at any time before the child attains the age of twenty-one years. The order for postsecondary education support may not extend beyond the earlier of the child’s twenty-first birthday or the completion of an undergraduate degree. The court may order the college expenses to be paid directly to the educational institution, to the child, or in such other fashion as is appropriate to support the education of the child.
A child shall not be considered emancipated solely by reason of living away from home while in postsecondary education (i.e. college, university or vocational school). If the child resides in the home of one parent while attending school or during periods of time in excess of thirty days when school is not in session, the court may order payments from one parent to the other for room and board until the child attains the age of nineteen.
Child Support Orders on or After July 1, 1997
Parents can agree in a written stipulation or agreement on or after July 1, 1997, to continue child support beyond the age of nineteen or to provide for postsecondary education expenses for a child and to set forth the details of the payment of the expenses. If the stipulation or agreement is approved by the court and made part of a decree of dissolution of marriage or legal separation, the terms of the agreement shall be enforced as provided in applicable law concerning separation agreements.
Any court order or stipulation (agreement) to pay for a child’s college expenses should be carefully written to include details such as: deadlines for payment; limitations on how much can be spent on tuition; books and fees; terms and conditions for the child to meet (for example, the child needs to attain a “B” average); and how payments are made.
While the Court cannot force the parents to pay for college expenses in cases filed after July 1, 1997, helping to pay for a child’s college expenses can still be negotiated so that the child’s obligations to pay are reduced or eliminated.