College Expenses and Divorce

Pendente Lite Phase

Going through a divorce is often a very emotional and overwhelming experience, often complicated by motions, discovery, court appearances and negotiations.  By the end of the mandatory “cooling off” or pendente lite phase (Latin for “while the action is pending”), one may find himself or herself confused and eager to resolve the case.  When considering the terms of a potential divorce settlement involving minor children, it is very important to keep future college expenses in mind.

If overlooked, it may be very difficult or impossible to obtain contribution from a former spouse for books, tuition and/or living expenses should your child choose to attend college.  There are various ways this issue can be addressed, and for a complete understanding, some fundamental information is useful.

Divorce Resolution

Generally speaking, a divorce is typically resolved in one of two ways.  The first is utilized when, despite efforts to come to a fair resolution, the parties are unable to agree on custody, visitation, child support, alimony, and/or the division of assets.  When one or more of those aspects of the divorce remain in dispute, a trial will be necessary to obtain a final judgment.

After hearing evidence and considering each party’s case, the Court will decide the terms of the divorce and enter orders accordingly.  However, where parties are able to reach an agreement, the Court may rely on the terms of that agreement and enter orders in accordance therewith.  Regardless of which avenue is taken, final court orders must ultimately be entered to formalize the dissolution of the marriage and define the terms of the divorce.

Divorce Final Judgement 

Though a divorce becomes “final” upon judgment, often orders require modification due to changes in circumstances which occur after the marriage is officially dissolved.  Examples include modifying child support and/or alimony due to a change in one or both parties’ financial circumstances, or modifying custody or visitation due to changes in the characteristics of the parties’ home, work schedules or living conditions.  Other times, it is necessary to add orders that simply were not ripe for adjudication at the time the divorce was obtained.  Orders entered after a divorce becomes final are referred to as “post judgment” orders.

Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-56c

In Connecticut, educational support orders are governed by Connecticut General Statutes Section 46b-56c.  This statute authorizes the Courts to enter orders defining how the parties will handle their children’s “necessary educational expenses.”  By statute, necessary educational expenses include room, board, dues, tuition, fees, registration and application costs up to the amount charged by the University of Connecticut for a full-time, in-state student at the time the child registers.

That being said, parents can agree to increase the limit beyond the amount charged by the University of Connecticut if they choose.  The educational support order may include the cost of books and medical insurance for the child as well.  An educational support order is limited to four full academic years at an institution of higher education or a private occupational school for the purpose of obtaining a bachelors or other type of undergraduate degree, or vocational instruction.

Educational support and Divorce

Educational support may be handled at the time of the divorce or post judgment.  When handled at the time of the divorce, the parties simply include in their separation agreement a provision outlining in detail how they will divide necessary educational expenses.  As children are often young during the divorce and the parties’ circumstances at the time the child will be ready to attend college are unforeseeable, this issue is not always ripe for consideration at the time of the dissolution.

In such cases, the parties may wish to defer the issue until the child is older.  It is very important to note that if the parties choose to do so, they must include in their separation agreement a provision expressly requesting that the Court retain jurisdiction over this issue.  If the parties fail to do so, the Court will not allow either party to request its involvement in the future.

Educational Support and Court

Assuming the parties request that the Court retain jurisdiction over educational support, either may come back to Court at the appropriate time to request a post judgment educational support order.  Once the post judgment action is commenced- as with the divorce itself- the parties may resolve the issue by agreement or request a hearing.  Important to note is that whether the order is entered at the time of the divorce or post judgment, the Court must find that it is more likely than not the parents would have provided support to the child for higher education or private occupational school if the family remained intact.

The parties may stipulate to this fact in an agreement.  If a post judgment hearing is required, the Court will make that determination and by considering specific evidence including the parents’ income and assets, the reasonableness of the higher education considering the child’s academic record and financial resources available, as well as the child’s preparation for, aptitude for and commitment to higher education.

If you have any questions or would like to speak to a divorce law attorney about a divorce or familial matter, please don’t hesitate to call our office at (203) 221-3100. We offer free divorce consultation as well as free consultation on all other familial matters. Divorce in CT and divorce in NYC is difficult, but education is power. Call our family law office in CT today.