As a college funding consultant, I often work with families who have been through a divorce or separation. This brings up a host of additional planning issues. What I have noticed too frequently is that little meaningful consideration had been given to the issue of college planning or costs in whatever divorce or separation agreements were formulated.
Whether married or divorced, the cost of college will often be the most expensive outlay that parents will have in their lifetimes. It requires significant financial planning in the best of circumstances, but especially when new families surface through remarriage and there are now college-bound kids in extended households. It becomes very complicated. Parents visiting me for guidance have little or no idea how to proceed with their former spouses, nor what costs to anticipate. Regrettably, their attorneys and accountants are seldom of much help either. This can lead to costly mistakes.
Many questions will arise pertaining to college attendance, and a well developed agreement can make the process and decision-making much easier for both sides. Leaving much of this to chance and the hope for amicable future agreement might be chancy. Good planning will reduce the risk of future litigation between the parties, which leaves more money for college instead. But lawyers and marriage mediators need the appropriate education and information to be helpful to their clients. That’s a separate challenge I am always in engaged with.
I remind attorneys all the time not to ignore this subject just because at the moment the children are very young. Proper language should be incorporated in every agreement which will anticipate many of the problems that are sure to arise. While most parents understand that they will be held responsible to some extent for the cost of college, there are many hidden costs which are usually not considered and can add as much as 20% to the cost of attendance. Here is a short list of possible unforeseen costs that can create future antagonism:
- SAT/ACT prep courses
- Help with application completion or essays
- College visits
- College application fees
- 2-3 round trip airfares from college for holidays (who picked the college in the first place?)
- New computer or printer
- Lab fees, art supplies
- Local transport
- Greek Life ( dues, clothes, dresses)
- Spring breaks
- Study abroad
- Eating out
- Failed course repeats
- 5th or 6th year of college
- Graduate school
These are costly matters which informed parents and attorneys must be mindful of during the very stressful time of divorce discussions. Awareness will certainly help avoid a lot of stress in the future. Navigating the entire college admissions process is stress enough.