Who Pays For College?

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March 14, 2011

Divorcing parents often ask who will pay for college following a divorce. In Oregon, the answer is that both parents can be responsible for helping contribute to the post-high school educational expenses for a child between the ages of 18 and 21. These expenses can include tuition, books, room and board, insurance, travel, and other basic expenses. There are loose rules regarding how those expenses are divided between the parents, which may differ from county to county and judge to judge, and have been a subject of enthusiastic discussion over the past few weeks.

A recent Court of Appeals case, Cain v. Gilbert, discussed some of the criteria a court should consider. First, what are the reasonable expenses for a child attending school? Courts often look to the average expenses for a state school such as University of Oregon or Oregon State University to determine what is reasonable. The court also looks at whether one parent contributes in a non-financial way, such as having the child live with him or her during school. Secondly, the Court looks to the available resources of the parents as well as the needs of the other children. Third, the Court looks to other available resources such as scholarships, college funds, student loans, and whether or not the child can work while attending school. Courts often begin with the Oregon Child Support Guidelines as a basis and then add certain expenses to come up with a total support obligation. This obligation is then divided between the parents in some manner which the Court determines to be fair. Keep in mind that support might be paid directly to the child and can be owed by both parents. The child also has certain responsibilities by which they must abide to continue receiving support, including staying enrolled at least half-time and maintaining at least a “C” average.

Planning to provide for your children’s post-high school education is difficult enough without a divorce complicating things further. It is important to talk to your attorney about various plans to provide reasonable support for your child who is in college or about to enter college. After all, this is an investment in your children.