Should college plans figure into your child support agreement?

Do you and your spouse assume that your child will go to college one day? Then it’s wise to plan for college costs during your divorce as you hammer out your child support agreement.

College expenses are generally not part of court-ordered support because most people don’t enter college until they’re legally adults. However, the college funding system takes into account parental income anyway — which means that you and your spouse should plan for the expense. Even though the court doesn’t require it, you can voluntarily enter into an agreement about how costs will be handled.

If your child is very young, you and your spouse can agree to start funding a college savings plan. There are numerous options available, and a financial advisor can help you set up a college fund. The money that goes into it would be separate from the ordinary support — although both parents should contribute something toward it (according to their means).

If you do set up an agreement, make sure you address what happens to the money if your child chooses not to go to college. Remember that everyone has different dreams. You may decide that the funds can be used to start a business, put a down payment on a home or for something else.

If your child is in high school or already in college, you may have to hammer out an agreement that is much more specific. Discuss what you consider reasonable expenses, what type of school you’re willing to fund (private vs. public) and how much you are willing to pay for other expenses (like dorm items, clothing, a car, books, and so on) that many college students have. Discuss any restrictions on how the funds will be spent.

Keep in mind that every divorce is unique — and your child support agreement should reflect your wishes for your child’s future.

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