Divorce in Virginia is generally a long process, beginning with a long period of separation (up to a year) and then continuing through the actual, often drawn-out divorce proceedings. During those many months, your children are still growing. Your son may have been a high school junior when you separated from your wife, but by the time your divorce is final, he could be a college freshman. How are you going to ensure your children’s financial future? How are you going to make certain your divorce does not rob your daughter or son of higher education?
Does the Non-custodial Parent Have to Pay for Higher Education?
In Virginia, the non-custodial parent is not required by law to pay for university tuition or other higher education (trade school, community college) expenses. This is not true of every state, but in Virginia, the custodial parent often assumes the burden of those schooling costs. Neither spousal support nor child support legally has to include your contribution (as the non-custodial parent) for higher education.
When you and your wife amicably agree on shared custody, you may also agree to share the burden of paying for the children’s college. One way to establish all the details of that financial arrangement is through a property settlement agreement.
What Does Your PSA Say?
Though Virginia does not legally compel you to help pay for your child’s college, a voluntary support system can be incorporated into the property settlement agreement at the time of divorce. This “education clause” can detail how you, as the children’s dad, will help make higher education possible for each of them. Since you will be putting out a considerable amount of money under such an agreement, work with your attorney to spell out every possible issue of the voluntary support:
- Define what “college,” or “higher education” means — Technical school may be fine, but Ralph’s Croissant Shop and School of Taxidermy probably should not qualify
- Determine the expenses are you covering — Room and board, tuition, lab fees, seven years of medical school, or a semester at sea?
- Provide a time limit — Four years of undergraduate school; two years of trade school; 18 months of online courses and community college, etc.
- How payments will be directed — To the school’s financial officer, to your ex-wife, to your child?
- What others will pay — How will your ex-wife contribute? Is your child expected to apply for scholarships or work-study?
- Scholarships — If the child earns a full scholarship, do you have to pay anything? What if your child gets a partial scholarship; how are everyone’s contributing amounts reduced?
- Minimal performance standard — If the child’s grades drop, should you be obligated to keep paying?
What if your child continues to live at the custodial home while attending two years of community college to earn basic academic credits? Should you have to pay for “room and board” under those circumstances?
Treat each child separately. Draft separate agreements for each of your children to take into account their ages and interests. Brilliant little Sally may be destined for medical school, while burly Sam has an eye on becoming a certified automotive mechanic. Different needs; different funding schedules; your full support.
Federal Student Aid – FAFSA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a routine part of every higher education odyssey. As a parent, you have to file a FAFSA even if your child does not qualify. The FAFSA program takes into account all manner of home situations, including divorced parents.
Under FAFSA, the custodial parent is the one with whom the child lived more during the previous year before filing the FAFSA; if you both shared your child exactly equally, whichever provided more financial support (food, clothing, housing, medical and dental care, help with car payments, etc.) is the custodial parent.
A possible advantage to divorce comes from additional needs-based aid available to your child. The custodial parent’s lowered income may help your child qualify if your child lives in that lower-income house. Do not be embarrassed if your child suddenly announces she or he needs proof of your divorce in order to qualify for financial aid.
The custodial parent’s income dictates the degree of financial aid available. If your divorce is uncontested, and you and your wife can work together for your children’s future, both of you should determine the less expensive arrangement for custody; perhaps if your income is less than hers, the children should live with you, so they can get more financial aid.
Start a Trust Fund for Your Children
An alternative to the education clause in the property settlement agreement is the creation of an educational trust fund, with funding guidelines for both parents. This will negate the need for financial aid and possibly simplify custody.
Get Advice from The Firm For Men
With everything else to consider during your divorce, do not overlook the future educational needs of your children. By calling 757-383-9184 to reach The Firm For Men, or by contacting us online, you can get trustworthy advice on securing funding for your college-bound kids as part of your divorce. Virginia needs bright young minds; you need us to protect your rights. Working together, we can provide a better future for your children.