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Paying for your kid's college after you get divorced: What are the options?

For decades, getting a college degree has been a pathway to becoming or remaining middle class in America.

Six years after the Great Recession ended, there is increasing doubt about how well that path still works. Many students get saddled with untenable debt loads that can hamper their future prospects - and generally aren't dischargeable in bankruptcy.

Still, as a parent you don't want to do what you can, within your financial means, to position your kid for success. But how do you do that effectively when you are getting divorced?

How long does the obligation to pay child support continue?

In Ohio, the obligation for a parent to pay child support after a divorce generally ends when a child turns 18 or graduates from high school. The duration of support depends on which of those events comes later.

There are some exceptions to this. For example, support may continue longer if a child has disabilities. Generally there is no legal obligation to continue to provide child support into the college years.

But divorcing parents may make it part of their divorce agreement that support will continue past age 18 or high school graduation. In particular, such an agreement can be used to help a child pay for college after his or her parents get divorced. Once the court signs off on that agreement, it becomes a legal obligation.

What steps can you take now to create a strategy for college funding?

Let's say you decide you want to help your kid pay for college to the degree that you can. What can you do now to put a strategy in place for making that happen?

Obviously a lot depends on the dynamics of your relationship with your ex. If it is reasonably possible to negotiate for your ex to contribute to a college fund as part of your divorce agreement, that may be an ideal scenario.

If you already have money set aside, make sure it is in 529 plans that are dedicated to college funding. This isn't only because such plans have tax advantages. You don't want to run the risk that your ex will raid those accounts for his or her own purposes.

When it's time for your child to apply for financial aid, be aware of the complicated considerations involved in that process. For example, if a child spends equal time living with each parent, some experts recommend that the parent with the lower income fill out the widely used Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form.

Get the legal counsel you need

Much depends of course on your particular situation. Perhaps you have very substantial assets. Or there may be various challenges in dealing with your ex. No matter what your precise circumstances are, there is a lot at stake.

A knowledge family law attorney at our law firm can guide you through the divorce process and seek out effective ways for you to help your kid get through college. You can't control the economy and neither can we. But we can work with you to do your part to position your child succeed in it.

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