Who Pays for College When You’re a Divorced Parent?

Miller Bowles Cushing PLLC

Parents going through a divorce in North Carolina must decide upon many issues of significance for their children, including a child custody schedule and child support payments. In general, child support in North Carolina requires one parent to pay a monthly amount of support to the other parent. It also covers which parent will be responsible for providing medical, dental, and vision insurance, and how the parents should split any uninsured medical costs. However, child support in North Carolina does not automatically cover children’s college educations.

In North Carolina, child support generally terminates when a child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, whichever event occurs last. Due to these terminating factors, North Carolina judges are not permitted to order parents to pay for their children’s college educations. In other words, a North Carolina judge cannot order a parent to save for their children’s college, nor can they mandate a parent to pay for their child’s college education when the time comes.

Consent Orders and Separation Agreements

Although North Carolina family law does not permit a judge to order parents to pay for college education, parents are certainly free to agree to terms for college spending amongst themselves, and often do so. If parents are aligned on their college payment plan, they can agree in a Consent Order or Separation Agreement to fund their children’s college educations. In such cases, a judge would be required to enforce such a Consent Order or Separation Agreement if need be.

When it comes to these agreements, parents will have many factors to consider and many different ways to go about agreeing to fund college. For example, some parents might agree that one or both parents will pay for all college expenses, whereas others might just agree to contribute a certain amount to 529 college savings plans to be used for college at a later date. Some parents also might choose to cap the amount of college funding which can take the form of setting a specific dollar amount, tying the maximum to that of an in-state public university, or setting a total amount of years of college expenses that they will agree to pay.

It’s also important for parents to clearly delineate what expenses they agree to pay. For instance, should the parents be on the hook for just college tuition and books, or should they also be responsible for expenses such as room and board, meals, and other general living expenses? Whatever parents decide, it’s important to be clear at the outset.

To speak with a Charlotte divorce attorney today about saving for your children’s college education in the context of your divorce, please call us at (704) 810-1400 to schedule a consultation.

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