Ending a marriage complicates a family's financial plans and parents must figure how to deal with paying for the care and support of their children. Paying for the children's college education is expensive and an important divorce matter even if the children are very young.
If a couple cannot commit to a payment plan because of future economic uncertainties, the settlement should memorialize that. Otherwise, a party may be taken back to court when the children are older.
If the parent can address this expense, they need to specify a 529 college savings plan or other financial source in their agreement. They should also negotiate acceptable expenses such as tuition, housing, food plans, cell phones, books and laptops.
An effective agreement should also deal with common contingencies and their impact on college savings. These include the child taking a gap year, foreign study or even the child skipping college. Child support obligations generally end when a child reaches 19 in Louisiana. Accordingly, the parents should agree whether support will continue through graduation from a 4-year college or graduate school.
Costs of state universities can be used to establish support guidelines. Parents can agree that they do not have support responsibilities until their children use up college loans. Divorce also plays a role in financial aid eligibility. Federal loan FAFSA documents require information only from the parent who has primary custody because the child lives with them most of the time or that parent furnishes the most support. Their income determines financial eligibility.
The College Scholarship Service used by some colleges to determine aid eligibility requires information from both parents. A 529 plan can also reduce eligibility if it is not owned by the child or custodial parent. If a parent remarries, that spouse's income may be counted against the new children's college aid. Prenuptial agreements will not prevent this and are not binding with respect to federal guidelines.
Finally, college administrators can ask for a divorce decree and will verify information provided by parents. There are no appeals of a financial aid administrator's decisions.
An attorney can help a spouse negotiate a decree that addresses their children's education. They can provide reasonable legal and financial options.