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College Costs in Divorce

It is not mandatory in Missouri that divorced or never married parents provide contributions to their children’s college expenses, however Missouri courts have the discretion to order either or both parents to make contributions toward those expenses. This can be done, at times, through a settlement agreement reached or through a trial where the judge hears each party’s arguments and evidence and then makes decisions. 

In Missouri, if a parent is ordered to pay a portion of the child’s college expenses, the court may determine that the child support calculation in Missouri (the form 14 child support worksheet) should be rebutted or otherwise calculated in a different way to calculate for a parent’s expense in paying college items. In Missouri, if a child continues to attend post-secondary education and complies with certain specific requirements, child support can continue to be paid for children through age 21. Of course, child support is for things such as living expenses, housing, utilities, transportation, personal expenses, and other similar expenses. These expenses exist in spite of a child attending college. 

Many Parents Wonder if An Obligation to Pay College Expenses Should Reduce Child Support?

The simple answer is that the Missouri family law judge has broad discretion to determine an outcome that he or she believes is reasonable in the circumstances. However, the custodial parent who receives the child support will often argue that their expenses in caring for the child remain the same, if not more, and more often than not, the custodial parent will continue to maintain a residence for the child to return to on weekends, school breaks and during the summer. Thus, the custodial/recipient parent of child support will argue his or her expenses remain the same. 

On the other hand, many parents understandably struggle to absorb large amounts of quarterly or semester college expenses and they request the court to consider a reduction of child support. The parent paying child support who also pays college expenses will often argue that some of the child’s expenses are redundant, such as meals or even dorm room living expenses such that there should be offsets or reductions to child support calculations. 

In trying to decide complicated issues of child support while addressing college expenses in Missouri, courts will typically look at the income of each party. If one party earns many times what the other party earns, the court may decide that the party making significantly more is better able to sustain paying for most or all of a child’s college expenses. On the other hand, if the parents earn approximately the same, the court may determine that there should be a sharing of expenses such that each parent contributes an amount and the child attending college attempts to maximize scholarships, grants and other financial aid, including student loans to contribute substantial amount to his or her own college expenses and costs. 

Additionally, if you and the other parent have worked together to save college funds through a 529 college savings plan or other custodial plan, the court will almost certainly look to the intention that you and your spouse have shown to save that money and ensure that the earmarked money is utilized for the benefit of your child.

How does the Court Deal with College Expenses in Kansas?

In Kansas, generally there is a presumption that child support stops when a child turns eighteen (18) or following their graduation from high school if they turn 18 during their senior year of high school. In Kansas, parents will still negotiate to pay or cover college or other expenses, but often in the absence of an agreement for a plan, the court will not take any action on this issue.

Do I need legal advice to address issues of college expenses through the court?

In short answer, yes. Only a skilled and experienced family law attorney can properly advise you as to the various options you have with regard to the payment of college expenses, as well as to help you weigh the pros and cons and likely or possible outcome to various requests and negotiations that you could seek with the parent of your child. 

Time is of the essence. If you anticipate your child attending college in the next year or so, it is important that you obtain skilled legal counsel to help you with these issues as soon as possible. Call Pingel Family Law today to schedule a consultation and evaluate your options at (816) 208-8130. The sooner we can formulate a strategy for your unique circumstances, the better we can implement a workable plan for your family’s needs. Your child’s future is at stake. Put our experience and knowledge to work for you.

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