For many divorcing couples, their children’s college funding is a priority during negotiations. It makes sense—college, even if your children attend public institutions, can be expensive. It’s often prohibitively expensive for children who don’t get parental support.
If you’re determined to have your ex-partner pay for all or part of your children’s college education after a divorce, it’s important to choose an attorney with strong negotiating skills. The team at Coumanis & York can help you navigate this challenging time while fighting for the outcomes that matter to you. Schedule a consultation now by calling us at 251-990-3083.
Alabama Divorce Orders
In Alabama, you have to negotiate college payments while you figure out the divorce settlement. If you wait until your child is ready to attend college, you’ve missed the window. This is a confusing point for many people due to changes in case law. In 1989, the court ruled on a case where a high-earning father refused to pay for his child’s college costs due to the child’s attitude toward him. In this case, the court ruled that he had to pay for his child’s college expenses.
This determined how cases were decided until 2013. In late 2013, the Alabama Supreme Court set a new legal precedent by ruling that parents cannot be forced to pay educational costs after the child is 19 years old. Because of this ruling, you absolutely must negotiate college payments during the divorce process.
Expectations Have Changed Over the Years
This is a unique topic in Alabama family law, as court rulings have changed substantially over the decades. In 1989, Bayliss v. Bayliss set the standard for this issue. In this case, the judge ruled that the child’s non-custodial parent could be required to pay college expenses for their child, even if the child has reached the age of majority.
The paying parent in this case believed they should not have to provide any financial support for their adult child. The court’s belief was that a college education was a necessity for a child of divorce, and so they should not be denied the same opportunity as children of non-divorced parents.
What the Court Says
This precedent changed in 2013 with the case Christopher v. Christopher. In the case, they called out numerous aspects of case law that would require the mother to provide financial support for their adult child. The mother claimed she could not afford to pay for 25% of her child’s college expenses and so should not be ordered to pay.
Now, there is no law requiring support for children who have reached the age of majority, which is 19 in Alabama. It’s believed that the judge in Bayliss v. Bayliss overstepped.
Determining a Fair Split
It’s important to approach negotiations with a fair and unbiased view of you and your ex-partner’s finances. If you both earn a substantial amount of money, it may be reasonable for each of you to pay 50% of college expenses. This is true even if there is a difference in your income levels, as long as you both earn more than enough to meet your needs and wants.
However, in many divorce cases where college costs arise as an issue, there is not an equal split of income. If your divorce involves one parent with a high-income career and one parent who worked as a homemaker, asking the homemaker parent to pay half of college expenses would be unfair. If your marriage is one with serious earning discrepancies, you may be able to fight for the higher-earning parent to pay for all or most of your children’s college expenses.
Negotiating for What You Want
Just like anything else in a divorce, you might have to give something to get something. If your children’s college fund is a top priority for you, you may need to negotiate elsewhere. Again, this largely comes down to the specifics of your marriage and your divorce case.
If there is a massive earning disparity in your marriage, you may not have to sacrifice much to have your children’s college expenses covered. After all, it is in both parents’ best interests to have their children succeed in higher education. If you are on similar earning levels, though, you’ll have a harder time getting the other party to cover more than half of college expenses. In this situation, you may need to be flexible on child support, asset division, or spousal support (if applicable).
How an Attorney Can Help
Knowing how expensive college is and how student loans can negatively impact a young adult as they start out in the world, you may be interested in figuring out college expenses with your co-parent. This highlights the need for an experienced divorce attorney in Daphne. You and your co-parent both have your child’s best interests in mind, and with the help of your attorney, you can work out a solution that limits the amount of student debt your child must take on. If this is a top priority for you in your divorce, be ready to compromise for it.
There are so many moving parts in a divorce—the division of debts, division of assets, spousal support, child support, child custody, child college expenses, and more—that getting everything to line up is a challenge. If you try to negotiate your own divorce, you could be weakening your own post-divorce financial situation. Many divorce choices come with tax implications, and if you don’t understand them before you sign the divorce decree, you may struggle in the years ahead.
Furthermore, you may not know how much leverage you have. Many people approach divorce negotiations assuming that they have little to offer, which leads them to give up far more than they need to. By working with an experienced divorce attorney, you can work toward a fairer divorce settlement that meets your needs.
Discuss Your Options with Coumanis & York
Ready to get started and plan for your life after divorce? Let’s set up a time to talk about where you are and what you hope to get from your divorce. Call our team at 251-431-7272 or contact us to schedule a consultation.