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Finance 101: How To Address College Expenses for the Children

Updated: May 3

Depending on the age of your children, college planning may be in the immediate future or quite a distance on the horizon. Either way, determining who will be responsible to pay for college is a critical financial decision that needs to be addressed in your settlement agreement. When children are in high school, their education successes and struggles are better identified compared to elementary school children or even toddlers. As parents, we hope that our kids will achieve the same or better degrees of learning, but that is not always the case and we simply do not have a crystal ball. In negotiating settlements, we do the best we can to provide for the future and use language that is consistent with that plan. Some college topics you might want to explore include:

  • Do you have a college education and is it presumed that your children will likewise achieve an advanced degree?

  • What if your child decides college is not the path for them, will you agree to pay for or support them while they attend trade school?

  • What if they decide to take time off between high school and college, is there a certain age that you no longer want to be responsible to pay?

  • Often, we contemplate what is referred to as the SUNY cap, but what happens when the children have opportunities because they are legacies of their parents or attending a private school is expected because of the family’s social or financial position? Does the SUNY cap make sense?

  • What other college financial planning have you done? Have you set up 529 Plans? Have grandparents set money aside for college?

  • How will student loans be considered? Will you agree to participate in the process by providing the necessary financial information? What are the expectations of getting loans, grants or scholarships? How will the shared expenses be adjusted if such monies are advanced?

  • What will your financial position be when the children are college age? Will you still be working?

  • What is your philosophy about your child having some skin in the game financially as it relates to attending college?

These are only some of the many conversations we can have in a Collaborative environment. Each family dynamic is independent of any other. Your ultimate agreement should reflect what is best for your family, not what a court would impose. Simply agreeing that “college costs” will be shared 50/50, leaves too much room for interpretation or challenge later. Instead, elaborate on what these college costs include or exclude and who is responsible for each.


Think about a breakdown that might include:

  • Application fees

  • Tuition

  • Room & Board – on campus or off campus

  • Commutation – on campus, off campus or living at home

  • Fees, Dues, Labs

  • Costs of extracurricular activities on campus

  • Study abroad

  • Travel costs to/from home, abroad and frequency

  • Books

  • Computers, Printers, Software

  • Moving in/out each semester

  • Furniture, bedding, supplies, décor

  • Spending money or allowances

  • Clothing

  • Renter’s or dorm insurance

  • Medical costs/insurance

Plans change. Especially where children are involved. As parents, we can all agree that we want what is best for our children. As professionals who favor the Collaborative Process, we can assist you in assessing what will be best suited for your family and work with you to draft a settlement agreement that puts those objectives in writing. More importantly, the Collaborative Process will give you the tools that can help you, as co-parents, adjust when those plans might change.


Written by Nannette Watts, CPA

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