We frequently receive inquiries as to whether parents are required to pay for their kid’s college in a Florida divorce. The obligation to pay child support in Florida typically ends after a child turns the age of 18 or turns 19 and has graduated high school. This means that a parent is not legally required to fund a child’s college education as part of child support in a Florida marital dissolution. The cost of a college education is becoming increasingly difficult for parents to afford, particularly when they are involved in a divorce. Private universities may have a price tag with tuition, books, fees and other expenses that can easily exceed $40,000 per year. The cost even at many public schools now exceeds $20,000 per year when all expenses are factored in. Because many parents are very concerned about their children’s access to higher education, financial support for the cost of college may be a negotiated term in a Florida divorce.
The starting point in considering the issue of a parent paying financial support for college is that it cannot unilaterally be compelled by the Court as part of a child support order in a Florida divorce or paternity action. However, parents may negotiate a voluntary agreement that provides for financial support for the cost of college by one of the parents. In order for the obligation to pay for certain college expenses or costs to be enforceable by contempt, the parties are required to clearly and specifically include language in the marital settlement agreement stating that the obligation is considered child support for their child beyond the age of 18. Otherwise, the obligation to pay the cost of college is not enforceable by contempt.
There are certain conditions and factors that should be considered when parents negotiate financial support for college as part of a Florida marital settlement agreement including:
Who Gets the Payments: The marital settlement agreement should make clear whether payments will be made directly to the university, the other parent or the child.
What Will Be Covered: The terms should be clearly articulated in terms of precisely what expenses will be covered and up to what, if any, maximum amount. The marital settlement agreement should also clearly set forth the duration of time that payments should be made and any obligation by the other parent to provide support for specific educational expenses.
Sufficient Progress: It might seem strange to include a minimum performance or progress guarantee, but college is extremely expensive. A parent that undertakes the voluntary obligation to pay for college should be protected from the legal obligation of paying for a child who may decide to be a “permanent student” that is not actually making reasonable progress in college, either because the child is not putting forth sufficient effort or has only chosen to dabble in a class or two at a time. The obligated parent should consider including minimum requirements for the number of credit hours and grade point average.
Access to Verification: If a parent is going to provide the financial support for college, it is reasonable that the parent paying should also have access to their kid’s academic records. This ensures that a parent can monitor compliance with the credit hours and GPA requirements. It also provides the opportunity for a parent to intervene and try to get their kids back on track before it is too late to do so.
If you are considering retaining an experienced West Palm Beach divorce attorney and have questions about child support or paying for educational expenses, the Law Offices of James S. Cunha, P.A. can assist you.