College is, by far, one of the most expensive endeavors young adults undergo, and the price tag on a college education is enough to make any parent’s heart sink. A moderate budget is roughly $25,000 a year at a public college and nearly doubles for a private college, according to College Data. How are parents supposed to pay for college after divorce?

It is no easy feat, but here are some tips to help.

What are U.S. News & World Report’s tips for paying for college?

Federal financial aid is the most significant and widely available resource to help students pay for college. U.S. News & World Report recently published an article online aimed at helping divorced parents navigate the financial aid process for their kids’ college tuition. Here are the four tips they provide.

  1. Understand that “custody” and “parent” may have new meanings. The Federal Application for Financial Aid, or FAFSA, has a lot of confusing terminology within in it. Your child will have to provide info for Parent 1, which is the “custodial” parent, and for Parent 2. Parents need to be aware that for the purposes of the FAFSA, custodial parent does not necessarily mean the legal guardian as declared in the custody order. Rather, it simply refers to the parent with whom the child spent most of the last 365 days. Also, Parent 2 does not mean the biological non-custodial parent, but rather the custodial parent’s spouse.
  2. Provide financial information – but do not overshare. Only provide the financial information that the FAFSA requires. If you overshare and give information about additional income from another parent or stepparent, it could hurt your child’s chances of qualifying for aid.
  3. Determine the involvement of the non-custodial parent. If you are averse to contact with your ex, there may be a way to avoid him or her being involved in the financial aid process. Consider encouraging your child to apply to schools with a financial aid policy that only requires financial information for the custodial parent.
  4. Prepare for hard conversations. If your divorce/custody papers do not specify the details of paying for your kids’ college tuition, you should be ready to run into some hurdles with your ex. Many families have misconceptions about financial aid and who should pay for what. Talk to your ex and see if you can come up with an arrangement that works for everyone.

1 More Tip for Paying for College after Divorce

Opening a 529 plan is another excellent way to help your child pay for college. If you opened a 529 college savings plan for your child, you will need to determine how to handle the funds in the event of divorce. Any 529 plans you purchased during your marriage are marital assets under the law and the courts will treat them as such during the divorce.

There are several ways you may choose to handle the funds. For example, you and your ex could split the funds between two accounts with each of you having authority over the funds in your account, or you could stipulate in the divorce documents that neither of you will use the funds for anything other than your child’s education.

It is far better to work out the details about paying for college during the divorce so that you have a solid court order that all parties must follow, rather than trying to scramble for ways to pay for college afterwards. For legal help with any aspect of custody, support, or divorce in Washington, contact a divorce lawyer at the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny.

Contact me today at 425-460-0550. 

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington
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