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Planning for your child’s college during divorce

All good parents want what is best for their children. This is a fact that rarely changes, even in emotionally difficult situations like divorce. This is why they often discuss college and vocational school costs years and factor them into the divorce agreement before their children have even started preschool.

According to the State University of New York, in-state tuition, student fees, and room and board for New York residents average about $21,790 a year in the 2018-19 school year. This does not include indirect costs such as books and supplies, transportation, and personal expenses, which can exceed $4,100 per year.

If you and your spouse agree, then you can include saving for college in the child support agreement and start depositing money into a special fund such as a State 529 Savings or Uniform Gift to Minor. Many parents opt to keep costs reasonable by including a SUNY cap, which limits parental contributions to covering the costs of attending a State University of New York (SUNY) university or college.

If you plan to include a SUNY cap, then here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Specify which SUNY cap you are using. There are many schools in the system and the tuition between two institutions could vary by thousands of dollars.
  • State when support will end, as a student could potentially be in school for up to six years depending on their academic goals. Child support in New York usually lasts until age 21 for children who are in school and financially dependent on their parents, but students studying for a four-year degree may need help until they are 22.

This is the ideal outcome, but what can you do if postsecondary education never entered into your support agreement and now, years later, your spouse, who is the non-custodial parent, is claiming that they have no intention of paying for college?

When a parent refuses to pay

Unlike some states, the courts in New York tend to support a child’s access to higher education and generally require parents to be responsible for their children’s reasonable tuition and related expenses. In determining how much parents should pay, the court will review factors such as:

  • The best interests of the child
  • How much the parents can genuinely afford to pay
  • How much education the parents received
  • The child’s academic performance, goals, and background

What is reasonable, however, varies from one situation to the next. If a noncustodial parent is disabled and on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), then it is not likely that they will be held responsible for covering a post-secondary education for their children. Custodial parents are also discouraged from deciding that the children must receive an Ivy League education and simply expecting the other parent to share costs without consulting them first.

If you and your spouse are divorcing in New York and have children who will eventually need a college education, then talk to a New York family law attorney who will help you come to an agreement on costs now so that problems don’t arise later. Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx attorney with over 35 years of legal experience who appears regularly in family court. If you have any child custody related questions, then do not hesitate to contact his office at 718-329-9500 to set up an appointment. Visit www.MyNewYorkCityLawyer.com for more information. Mr. Lutzky offers free in-person initial consultations.

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