I got the dreaded ‘freshman call,’ my parents are divorcing. I am ashamed to ask, but who is paying my tuition?
Your question touches on the lives of so many young people growing up. While college students are not more vulnerable than younger children, they have distinct issues to confront. We want to console you, but will give an overview for everyone who is or will face your situation.
Today in America, it is predicted that around 50% of marriages will end in divorce. The median length of a marriage is now 11 years. Having your parents get a divorce later in life, with you in college, is not as common. Parents often stay in unhappy marriages until their child leaves the nest. In terms of protecting yourself and education, there are a few things that need major consideration.
Surprisingly, your financial aid will change in your benefit. Federal Student Aid, under FAFSA, will take into account the financial information of your custodial parent. This is the parent that you declare you will live with more than 50% of the time.
The non-custodial parent’s financial information is ignored. So, in most circumstances, you qualify for more money in financial aid. More aid can help guarantee continuance of your higher education. In harshest terms, maximizing financial aid means it is best to choose the one who earns the least amount of money, as the custodial parent.
College support agreements can be filed at the time of a divorce. This agreement protects you, because it specifies which parent is responsible for helping pay your college expenses, cites divorce attorney Brad Micklin. For example, an agreement states your father pays for the tuition costs, while your mother contributes to the costs of your books.
College savings amassed by your parents should be protected. Be proactive and discuss college savings vehicles with your parents. If your parents saved for your education in a 529 savings account, they need to designate which one will take control of the plan. It is better if a non-custodial parent assumes control of the savings account, because it will not be included in your FASFA documentation as an asset.
Your parents can still claim you as a dependent on their annual taxes. Your parents need to sit down with an accountant and determine which one will claim you on their taxes. College expenses are a form of child support, so the expenses can be modified or terminated in the future, if your parents’ financial circumstances change.
Along with burden of getting good grades, you need to understand the financial impact divorce has on your college education.
You can’t go home again, Thomas Wolfe.
Written by Martin J. Young, former correspondent of Asia Times.