Who Pays For College Expenses In A Florida Divorce?

Florida law regarding college expenss after divorce

Raising kids is expensive.  Daycare can often cost more than a mortgage but it’s nothing compared to the expense of putting a child through college.  Usually families sit around the kitchen table and figure out how they’re going to pay for college where mom, dad and the child are all pitching in to make it happen. But what happens after a divorce? Who pays for college expenses after a Florida divorce?

Other states have explicit statutes dictating how college is to be paid.  Do not think this is the case or will be the case in Florida.

The Florida statutes do not mention college and university expenses in their dissolution of marriage, support and time-sharing section.  So, there’s no affirmative obligation for a parent to pay for the college expenses of their children.

The Florida courts have clarified exactly what is required regarding a divorced couple’s child’s college expenses: not much.

Any duty a parent has to pay an adult child’s college expenses is moral rather than legal. Grapin v. Grapin, 450 So.2d 853, 854 (Fla.1984).

“[T]he court cannot require a parent to pay those expenses unless the parties have contracted for them in a marital settlement agreement.” Wagner v. Wagner 885 So. 2d 488 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2004) 

So, if you want to split college expenses with your ex you have to arrange for it when you prepare the final documents.

How To Split College Expenses In a Florida Divorce.

Every divorce has a final document entered in the courts called a “Marital Settlement Agreement” commonly referred to by its acronym MSA.

The MSA includes all financial arrangements and agreements between the two parties.  The division of assets, debts and whatever child support and alimony is ordered or agreed to.

A good MSA will include any future financial relationships the parties might have. An example is if the parties choose to co-own a house or business.  But, if the parties have children the parties should also include some kind of language about how they will make arrangements to pay for the children’s college or university expenses.

The question is how do you allocate these expenses between the two parties when you don’t know how much college will cost, what your incomes and assets will be or if your child will even go to college at all.

There’s probably no good answer to this.  So, let’s discuss strategies.

You can cap the expenses of college using some kind of reasonable metric like Florida in-state tuition. This will virtually insure that your child will attend a Florida state University.

You can allocate the expenses proportionally to income but you’ll have no idea as to what your income or your spouse’s income will be.  You and your spouse are likely to re-marry.  If you remarry and support your new spouse and new children you’ll have more income than your ex-spouse if he or she marries and is supported by their new spouse.

Even if require your ex-spouse to contribute future income to your children’s college, your spouse will not be held in contempt of court if they simply cannot pay that amount.  To be held in contempt means that their behavior was “willful and contumacious” and a real inability to pay is neither.  If the person cannot be held in contempt, there will never be any real enforcement of the order.

Probably the only fair way to manage these expenses is to require both parties to contribute to 529 plans at a regular set pace.

If the children get scholarships or don’t go to college, this 529 money doesn’t disappear.  You can use it for another child’s education, for your own education or even a grandchild’s education.  Or you can cash it out and pay the taxes you deferred and a 10% penalty.

A mix of these options is probably advisable.  A 529 contribution.  A proportional income contribution which considers any other children’s expenses and even possible new spouse’s income. A requirement that the child investigate scholarships, grants and loans can also be included.

Or you could just include very broad language saying that the issue of paying for children’s college expenses will be handled equitably and let a court determine the payment.  But then the parent that doesn’t want to pay will just turn to the previously mentioned court decisions and say “we didn’t contract for anything in particular therefore we don’t have to pay.”

A life insurance policy can also be agreed to for the payment of college expenses if one of the parties’ passes away prematurely.

To learn more about how you should consider your children’s college education during and after your divorce, please contact family law attorney Russell Knight to schedule a free consultation.

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