college contributionPart I of our College Contribution Series.

While you may be focused on planning college tours and deciding which schools are on the short list, it’s important to plan for collecting your spouse’s college contribution towards the costs. Here are the first five questions to know answers to this season:

  • When do you address college contribution in your settlement agreement? It really depends how old your kids are when you are getting divorced. If they are high school age and about to enter college, then you will want to address the issue rather than litigate it shortly after the divorce. If they are younger, than you may just want to have broad provisions in which you both acknowledge that you will both contribute to the expenses. This is explained further below.
  • How do you address college contribution in your settlement? You have three basic options: (1) You can simply say that the issue will be addressed later when the kids are about to enter college, (2) You can have a specific agreement as to how college contribution will be allocated (such as 50/50 or 60/40, depending on your circumstances), however, we only recommend this if college attendance will be in the near future (the next year or two) and you don’t expect either parties’ finances to change much before then, OR (3) You can say that college contribution will be determined by the applicable law at that time. You should be aware that #1 and #3 is really dependent on your particular circumstances. There are some traps associated with either scenario which really depend on your situation. The reason for this is because there are some proposed law changes that could eliminate a parent’s contribution towards college expenses.
  • When do you start the process of figuring out who owes what? NOW! If you already have provisions in your settlement agreement for exactly how much you and your spouse have to pay (such as a 50/50 split) then you likely just have to make sure you are including him or her in the college selection process. However, if you’re like most people, you only have a vague agreement that you will both contribute, without a specific provision as to how much, you need to start a dialogue right away. We recommend beginning that dialogue now. If you can’t agree right away, the process of filing a motion or going to mediation will take months. If you’re lucky, you might have an answer by the time your child is actually going to school.
  • What is included in “college expenses”? You should start by reviewing your settlement agreement, which often defines what is included in college expenses. However, it is typical for the following to be included (and even if these aren’t included in your definition, you may be able to add them): tuition, mandatory fees, books, admissions deposits, college application fees, SAT prep costs and SAT fees, room and board, health insurance through the school (although if it’s a duplicate expense, you may consider opting out), gym fees (these are often included as part of tuition), dorm set-up costs (e.g. sheets, computer, bedroom décor, etc.), transportation (which is dependent upon the circumstances), Greek (fraternity or sorority expenses). Some of these expenses may overlap with child support. Remember child support and college expenses are two distinct obligations.
  • What about pre-college expenses? Some of these can include SAT prep classes, SAT fees, college application fees, AP course fees, and visits to college campuses. These are often included in the definition of college expenses in settlement agreements. It’s important that you know what is included in your settlement agreement, and if you are negotiating your agreement now, it’s important you consider whether these costs should be included in the language of your agreement to avoid potential disputes later.

On part II we will discuss five more questions you need to have answers to as you think about college contribution with your ex-spouse, or soon to be ex-spouse. If you need help trying to figure out any aspect of this process and how any of these suggestions apply to you, schedule a FREE Client Vision Meeting

Remember, we won’t tell you what you want to hear….We tell you what you need to know!

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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