Nationwide, college tuition has increased fivefold since 1985, to an average of $22,432 per year for tuition, fees, room, and board. Put another way, the four years of college cost more than the eighteen years of child-rearing which preceded college admission. Additionally, the $22,432 does not represent the total cost of a college education. That figure does not include living expenses and the dreaded “incidentals” category.
In Minnesota, child support always ends at 18 or upon graduation from high school. There is no way, even via a hidden loophole, to force a parent to pay for college expenses. However, voluntary college tuition agreements are enforceable in the Gopher State. Many times, if the children are young at the time of divorce, a Hutchinson family law lawyer will include a reserve clause in the decree. The parties agree to table college tuition reimbursement for the time being and take up the issues when the children are older.
Only support provisions in the decree or other court paperwork are enforceable, according to Minnesota family law. Side agreements, even if they are in writing, are never enforceable in a McLeod County family court. These agreements may not meet the legal definition of a contract, so they may not be enforceable elsewhere either.
Defining Key Terms
Items like tuition, living expenses, and transportation, which are the three major components of a college tuition reimbursement plan, seem straightforward. However, upon closer inspection, they are quite subjective. So, a Hutchinson family law lawyer must aggressively stand up for your financial rights in these matters.
There is a significant difference between community college tuition, in-state public school tuition, out-of-state public school tuition, and private school tuition. Tuition usually includes a number of semi-optional fees as well, such as a meal plan or athletic use fees.
Additionally, most students can work and/or borrow money to pay for college. How much they should work, and how much they should borrow, affects the amount of tuition the parents must pay. Scholarships affect the amount due as well.
In terms of living expenses, there is a cost difference between a dormitory room and a private, off-campus apartment. There is also a difference between a regular dorm and a private dorm, or a one-bedroom apartment and a two-bedroom apartment with three other roommates.
Finally on this point, what constitutes “transportation” expenses? Does that mean a private vehicle along with money for gas and other expenses, two round-trip bus tickets home every semester, or something in between?
Factors a Hutchinson Family Law Lawyer Uses
A number of states, including nearby Illinois, do require both parents to help pay for their children’s college expenses. Some common factors include:
- Each Parent’s Financial Situation: Total household income after remarriage is generally irrelevant in child support situations. But it is relevant when determining the ability to help pay for college.
- Child’s Financial Resources: This factor was discussed above. Once they turn 18, people can borrow money, get jobs, and otherwise participate in the economy.
- Child’s Academic Performance: Both pre-college and college performance may be relevant. A four-year university is not for everyone. Moreover, if the student’s grades fall below a certain level, it’s reasonable to ask if college was the right choice.
These factors are nonbinding, but they do matter a lot. As mentioned, many parents insert reserve clauses into their divorce decrees. Later, Hutchinson family law lawyers often resolve these matters in mediation. The three mentioned factors are a good road map to follow during such a proceeding.
Some Practical Concerns
Many parents begin paying for college when their children are small. They put money into a 529 savings plan or a prepaid tuition plan with a public university. When the time comes to divide educational costs, these parents should receive credit for those expenditures. Arguably, they should receive more than dollar-for-dollar credit. Their forethought and previous sacrifices should mean something.
The payee may be a concern as well. The residential parent is no longer automatically qualified to receive college cost reimbursement funds as trustee. The money could go to the institution directly or to the child.
Finally, one child’s college attendance often affects the other children in the family. If the child attends school locally or comes home frequently, downsizing to a smaller dwelling may not be a realistic option. Under Minnesota law, the non-residential parent is entitled to a child support reduction. But the college tuition reimbursement agreement could also include provisions with regard to regular child support. The judge will almost certainly approve any such agreement, as long as it is in the best interests of the children.
Reach Out to Aggressive Attorneys
College tuition reimbursement is not part of child support in Minnesota, but many parents make it that way. For a free consultation with an experienced Hutchinson family law lawyer, contact Carlson & Jones, P.A. Convenient payment plans are available.