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How to Plan for College Expenses when Negotiating Child Support?

by | Jul 5, 2022

Parents who are going through a divorce, or are already divorced, know that one of the most contentious issues to contend with is custody and child support. Determining an appropriate amount for child support payments is never easy and often requires negotiations.

One factor that can be easily forgotten in these negotiations, however, is how to account for college expenses. In this blog post, we will provide some tips on how to plan for and negotiate college expenses as part of a custody and child support agreement.

Two separate issues

First of all, you should know that custody and child support are two separate issues, although they are often negotiated together. Pertaining to education, these terms are defined as follows:

  • Child support: The non-custodial parent’s financial contribution to the child’s education expenses.
  • Custody: The legal arrangement that determines which parent has primary responsibility for the child’s education decisions.

In other words, responsibility for college expenses may be assigned to one parent or shared between both, depending on the custody arrangement. The non-custodial parent may also be required to contribute to college expenses through child support payments, even if they do not have primary child custody.

Who is responsible?

In most cases, the custodial parent is responsible for making educational decisions for the child, and the non-custodial parent is responsible for contributing to college expenses through child support payments. Until the child is 18, both parents are legally responsible for their child’s education, even if they do not have primary custody.

There are a few things to consider when determining who is responsible for college expenses:

The financial ability of each parent to contribute

Parents should consider their own financial situation when deciding who will be responsible for paying for college. If one parent can contribute more than the other, the costs will be divided accordingly. 

For example, if the custodial parent has a higher income than the non-custodial parent, the custodial parent may be responsible for a more significant share of the college expenses. If both parents have the means to contribute equally, they may decide to split the costs evenly between them.

It is important to note that, in some cases, the non-custodial parent may be required to contribute to college expenses even if they cannot afford to do so. This is often the case when the child is from a wealthy family or the non-custodial parent has a high income.

Divorce and financial aid

Another factor to consider is how divorce will impact the child’s eligibility for financial aid. In general, the custodial parent’s income and assets are considered when determining financial aid, while the non-custodial parent’s income and assets are not. If the custodial parent has a lower income or fewer assets, the child will likely be eligible for more financial aid.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you are divorced and your child is applying for financial aid:

  • The custodial parent should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The non-custodial parent’s information will not be required.
  • The custodial parent’s income and assets will be considered when determining financial aid. The non-custodial parent’s income and assets will not be considered.
  • If the child lives with both parents equally, the FAFSA will consider both parents’ incomes, or the highest earner will be used.

Creating a plan

If you are a divorced parent, it is important to create a plan for how you will pay for your child’s college education. This will help ensure the child has enough money to cover all costs and that both parents are aware of their financial obligations. 

You might have had a prior discussion and agreement on paying for college when you were married, but this may need to be revisited after the divorce. Now, there are a few things to keep in mind when creating a new plan:


What are the costs of college? This includes tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and other fees. 

More specifically, you’ll need to speak with your child to figure out if they are going to community college or an Ivy-league school. Likewise, the discipline they are pursuing will also have an effect. For example, a medical school P.h.D will be more expensive than getting a degree in English.

It would help to consider whether your child will be living at home or attending school away from home. If they live at home, their costs will be lower than if they live on campus.


How will you fund your child’s college education? You should start by looking into federal and state financial aid. These programs include scholarships, grants, loans, and savings. Your child may also be eligible for scholarships and grants from the school they are attending or from private organizations. 

If both spouses are contributing to the fund, here is where the costs will be fractionalized. It’s also important to consider how you will pay for expenses not covered by financial aid or other sources of funding. 

This might include travel costs, books and supplies, and personal expenses. You can use savings, loans, or credit cards to cover these costs.


Next, you’ll need to set up accounts for paying college expenses. That might include a savings account, checking account, or credit card. But how will you access the funds? Married couples have the luxury of joint accounts, but this usually isn’t an option for divorced parents. In this case, it might make sense to set up a separate account for each parent. 

If one parent is responsible for paying the bill, they can set up automatic payments from their account to pay the college bills. This will ensure that the dues are paid on time and that there are no late fees. If both parents contribute to the fund, you’ll need to set up a system for transferring money from one account to the other. This can be done manually or through an automated system like PayPal.

Get help from a Wisconsin family lawyer

A lawyer can help you understand your rights and obligations under the law. They can also help you negotiate a fair agreement with your ex-spouse. Whether you can develop a strategy on your own or need help from a family law expert, it’s essential to understand your options before making any decisions.

At Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, our skilled team of family law attorneys has helped clients navigate the divorce process for 40+ years. We understand the challenges you are facing, and we are here to help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

Written by Vanden Heuvel & Dineen, S.C.

Divorce | Family Law

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