Paying for College After a Divorce

When a child turns 18, he/she is an adult in Michigan. That means that the child is no longer entitled to support from parents unless he/she is still in high school with a reasonable chance of graduating. That makes life very difficult when it comes to paying for college.

Courts cannot order what is called “post-majority support,” but the parties can agree to it. In fact, there are several ways to handle college expenses if parents divorce or separate:

  1. Parents can still fund section 529 accounts or MET’s (Michigan Educational Trust) programs.
  2. Parents can decide to take some portion of marital assets and set them aside for their children’s education instead of just distributing them as an asset in the divorce.
  3. Parents can agree in their divorce judgment or custody order that they will pay some share of their child(ren)’s post-majority college expense. If parents agree to this and put that provision in their judgment, then the court will enforce the provision as it would with any other contract.

Most of these judgment/contracts have special terms and conditions (possibly similar to what might be seen if the parents remained together). Examples of this are the following:

  1. The parents will pay for tuition, room and board, and books only (“Expenses”).
  2. The parents will pay Expenses in the amount that would have been charged by Michigan State University (although the child need not attend that school).
  3. The student must attend college full-time immediately after graduation from high school and remained enrolled.
  4. The student must maintain a B average.
  5. The student must live in a dormitory on campus.
  6. The contribution to post-majority support shall not exceed the four (4) years immediately following graduation from high school.
  7. The parents will share the cost in the following proportion:
    1. 1/3—father
    2. 1/3—mother

The parents presume that the child can find the other 1/3 of the Expense. Another approach, however, is for parents to share the Expense on a pro rata basis according to their respective incomes at the time the Expense is due.

If either party has to resort judicial process to enforce this agreement, the defaulting parent shall pay all the costs and attorney fees incurred by the other parent.

The child is the intended third party beneficiary of this agreement and may also enforce it. The attorney fee provision will inure to the benefit of the child also.

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