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Who Pays for College After a Divorce?

who pays for college after a Connecticut divorceWe are often asked “who pays for college after a divorce?”

Many parents agree to contribute to college costs.  But what about when they disagree about how much each parent will contribute — or when one parent does not wish to participate at all?

The short answer is that Connecticut courts may order one or both parents to contribute to expenses for a child between the ages of 18 and 23 who is a full-time student at a “post-secondary school”  like college or a similar type of educational program.  This is done via an “educational support order.”

When are Educational Support Orders Entered?

There are a few options here, and they tend to shake out differently depending on whether the parents agree.  Many parents reach an agreement in their divorce, including regarding college.  Agreements are reached via negotiation in litigation, or in litigation alternatives like mediation and collaborative divorce.

Parents can agree how to handle college expenses at the time of the divorce.  If they can’t decide, they can ask the court to decide later.  This is referred to as “reserving the court’s jurisdiction.”  If the court orders at the divorce itself do not specifically reserve the court’s jurisdiction, the court will have no authority to enter an educational support order down the road.

When the parents do not agree together at the time of the divorce (1) how to handle college expenses, (2) to reserve the court’s jurisdiction, or (3) not to reserve the court’s jurisdiction, it’s up to the court.

If the requirements are met for an educational support order, the court can enter an education support order at the time of the divorce.  Or, the court may reserve jurisdiction to enter an educational support order post judgment, at a later date.  This may happen, for example, the children are young at the time of the divorce.  If the court reserves jurisdiction, either parent may petition the Court to enter an educational support order at a later date.  Again, if the Court does not reserve jurisdiction, it cannot later enter an educational support order.

What Are the Requirements for an Educational Support Order?

The court cannot enter an educational support order unless the court finds that it is more likely than not that, had the family remained intact, the parents would have provided support for a child’s undergraduate college education or private occupational school.  

If so, the court then considers “all relevant circumstances,” including the:

  • Parents’ income, assets and other obligations, including obligations to other dependents
  • Child’s need for support to attend an institution of higher education or private occupational school considering the child’s assets and the child’s ability to earn income
  • Availability of financial aid from other sources, including grants and loans
  • Reasonableness of the higher education to be funded considering the child’s academic record and the financial resources available
  • Child’s preparation for, aptitude for and commitment to higher education
  • Evidence, if any, of the institution of higher education or private occupational school the child would attend.

Can Divorced Parents Be Ordered to Pay for Anything Beyond College Tuition?

In addition to tuition, a court can order parents to pay for educational expenses like room, board, dues, fees, registration costs, application costs, books, and health insurance.  Parents can always agree to pay for more — or for graduate school.

What is the Maximum a Divorced Parent Can Be Ordered to Contribute Towards College?

An educational support order may not exceed the amount charged by the University of Connecticut for a full-time, in-state student at the time the child enters college.  This is often referred to as the “UConn cap.”  The UConn cap does not prevent parents from agreeing to contribute more.

Next Steps

If you are not yet divorced, please take a look at our other articles like “How Child Support Works” and “How Long a Connecticut Divorce Takes.”

If you are already divorced and would like to change something from your current orders, you can learn more about how that works here.

As always, if you have questions or want to learn more about how college costs, child support, divorce, or post judgment motions might work in your specific situation, please contact us either here or by phone at 860-560-8160.

Written by Meghan Freed