In California, court-ordered child support ends when a child turns 18 years old or graduates from college. However, support may continue until the child is 19 years old if at 18 years old they are still a full-time high school student living with a parent. Child support can also be terminated if a child:
- Joins the military
- Is emancipated
Under California Family Code § 3910, the court may extend child support and require both parents to support a child of any age who is disabled or incapacitated. Child support cannot be extended to cover the cost of college expenses. Divorced or unmarried parents will have to explore other options, outside of child support payments, for college expenses. Often, parents negotiate an agreement (that can be included in their divorce terms or a separate contract) or set up a trust. Continue reading to learn more about covering college expenses once child support obligations end.
How Are College Expenses Handled in a California Divorce?
If you are a co-parent or a divorced parent, you may worry about paying for your child’s tuition and other college-related expenses. You may also wonder whether the other parent will commit to contributing to the expenses. As we mentioned, child support will end before your child starts their continuing education programs.
If you are getting divorced, two of the common option for addressing your child’s college expenses include:
- Agreeing to separate payments for college expenses. As a part of your divorce decree or a separate contract (i.e. a college contract), you and the other parent can enter into an agreement concerning college expense payments. Through negotiations, you can agree to terms about how much either parent is required to support their child through college. It is important to note that these terms can be modified. Because of a decision made by the California Court of Appeal, the college expense agreement can be modified if a parent has a material change in circumstances (unless the parties add a clear provision that the terms must remain effective).
- Creating a trust or escrow account for college expenses. If you have savings already, you can agree to put them into an escrow account or trust. While this is similar to entering into an agreement with your child’s other parent, a trust or escrow account offers you more protection if one party wishes to break the agreement in the future.
With either option, you should take inflation into account as it relates to college expenses as they will be when your child actually goes to college. You should also consider the following questions.
- What expenses will be covered by these funds—solely tuition or also room and board, meals, books, and living expenses as well?
- What will happen if your child gets accepted out-of-state? Are you prepared for the cost difference?
- What will happen to the funds if your child chooses to forgo going to college?
- How often will payments be made?
- Will you require your child to meet certain conditions to receive the funds (i.e. maintaining a certain GPA, attending a certain school, etc.)?
FAFSA Changes for a Child Post-Divorce in California
If you are worried about how you will pay for your child’s tuition or other college-related expenses, you may be wondering if your child is eligible for financial aid. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form determines the applicant’s eligibility for financial aid based on the custodial parent’s finances. Thus, the parent who is the lower owner should be their custodial parent and claim the child as a dependent because they are more likely to receive financial aid for their child. Whichever parent claims their child as a dependent, during their college years, can receive certain tax-deductive college credits and expenses.
529 College Savings Plan
A 529 plan refers to a savings plan that is tax-advantaged and designed to encourage parents to save for future educational costs. There are two types of 529 plans:
- Prepaid tuition plans. These plans allow the account holders to purchase credit or units at participating colleges and universities (in-state) for future tuition costs. These plans have residency requirements and do not cover anything but tuition costs.
- Education savings plans. These plans allow the account holder to open an investment account to save for their child’s future, qualifying college-related expenses; such expenses include tuition, room and board, and mandatory fees. The funds in these savings accounts can be used at any college or university, including select non-U.S.-based institutions.
If divorcing parents have set up a 529 for their child, they will need to determine who will have control of the account following their divorce. The non-custodial parent should have control of this account if your child will need financial aid since the non-custodial party’s income and assets are not included in the FASFA.
Get Legal Help
With decades of collective experience, the attorneys at The Neshanian Law Firm, Inc are equipped to help you with your child support matter. We handle a range of child support-related matters including:
- Divorce (mediation or litigation)
- Child support mediation
- Child support enforcement
- Settlement negotiations
- Initial judgment (for support)
- Child support modification
- Defenses against enforcement cases
- Judicial determination of child support arrears
To schedule a case consultation, call (949) 577-7935 or reach out online today.