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Linda D. States

Negotiating children's college educations during divorce

Concerns of California parents about paying for their children's college education may grow if they get a divorce. Amid worries about child and spousal support, college savings might slip down the priority list, but with colleges costing an average of more than $20,000 per year for a state school and over twice that for a private school, it is likely that help will be needed.

Both children and parents might need to revise their plans. For example, a child may want to consider attending a state school instead of an expensive private one. Parents may want to look into what kind of loans, scholarships and grants might be available. Generally, a parent cannot be forced to pay for graduate school or a particularly expensive education. Divorce agreements that include plans to pay for child support usually limit the time period.

Another option is a 529 plan. This allows savings to accumulate tax free, and there are no taxes on withdrawals that are used for education. A 529 plan is usually owned by one parent who has the ability to withdraw funds or change the beneficiary, so the other parent may want the divorce agreement to specify the purpose of the plan.

Making sure a child's college education is paid for may be one way that parents can help protect children during a divorce. Most of the time, it is also a good idea for parents to try to avoid conflict in front of their children and encourage the child's relationship with the other parent. Parents may find that negotiating child custody and other agreements involving their children results in a more harmonious coparenting relationship than going to court. The agreement can then be made legally binding. If parents need to change some aspect of the divorce agreement later, they can go to court to ask for a modification.

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