How do I pay for college if I’m divorced?

It’s the time of year when kids all over the country are receiving acceptance letters and financial aid awards from colleges and universities.  Everywhere we look we see the statistics about how the cost of a secondary education is increasing and how students are saddled with the burden of debt more and more. In a perfect world, we as their parents have carefully saved money every month since they were born to pay for the education but very few of us live in this perfect world.  So, we all face the tough question of paying for college and even more so if you are a single parent.

A good divorce attorney will ask you questions about your children’s educational goals because they should be considered at the time of the divorce.  In Oklahoma, the obligation to support your children ends at the age of 18 or when the child graduates from high school, whichever is later up to the age of 20.  Unless your child is disabled or has a qualifying However, many colleges and universities, particularly the elite ones expect both parents to contribute to the child’s education costs. So, what does that mean?

A divorce degree can either be a consent decree or based on a finding by the court.  If you go to trial and the judge makes decisions about custody, support and visitation, the judge only has the power to order that which is allowed under Oklahoma law, which means the judge cannot order that child support continue past 18 or high school graduation under most circumstances. However, if the parties reach an agreement either through mediation or some other settlement or agreement, the parties can enter any agreement about continued support they wish so long as it does not violate the law.  So, in a consent decree, the parties can agree that the obligation to continue to support the children lasts during a post-secondary education likewise and agreement can be made on medical support and extracurricular activities for phone, car insurance, spending money etc.  While it seems strange that these kinds of matters need to be addressed in a divorced decree, it is better to have them and not need them than need them and not have them.

Additionally, Oklahoma offers the promise program.  Often when parents are married a child will not qualify for the Promise program due to combined income limits.  However, once the separation occurs, even if the divorce is not final, a parent should apply for promise if either individual parent’s income satisfies the income requirements. Documentation can be provided to the Promise Program about the circumstances and the parents separate income even if the joint tax returns show that the parents together exceed the income.  Further, even if there is joint custody if one parent qualifies based on income the student will qualify as well.  Sound financial planning in all aspects of your divorce is important and should be considered when going through these proceedings. If your divorce attorney isn’t talking to you about these things you need to ask, and if they do not understand why this is important you should consider whether this attorney understands the issues that are important to you as an attorney.

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