This is a topic that people reflexively agree to do, to be “nice”, but is also one of the biggest legal mistakes that can be made in divorce and child custody matters. I am by no means stating that you should not support your kids through school (yes, by all means do so), but don’t legally bind yourself to do so unless you get something in return. Let me explain further:
GEORGIA COURTS HAVE NO POWER TO ORDER YOU TO PAY FOR YOUR CHILDREN’S COLLEGE EDUCATION UNLESS YOU VOLUNTARILY AGREE TO DO SO
A Georgia trial court has absolutely no power to order any parent to pay for their adult children’s college education, NONE, ZERO. The only way the court obtains this power is if you voluntarily give it to the court by agreeing to pay for your children’s college expenses in a settlement agreement that gets entered in the court’s order. Any why would you want to give any court more power over you than the allow gives it to begin with?
One of the biggest and most costly mistakes I have ever seen a party make in regard to child support and divorce case (this particular case in Gwinnett County) is agreeing, in a settlement agreement, to pay for the college expenses of each of his six children as part of child support. I was retained to try to get this client out of this horrendous deal he had made. To make matters worse, in doing so, he put no limits on the expenses. He had no time limit (so, for example, what if a child suddenly decided to go to college at age 30, or decided to stay in college for six years or more), and he put no limit on expenses (so, for example, what if a child chose to go to Harvard, or any of the various $40,000+ per year schools, plus room and board). And to make matters even worse, this man only made $96,000 per year. And sure enough, his kids started going to college, with one child choosing a university in the State of Nebraska that was one of the most expensive schools in America. In this particular case the father became estranged from his children, they openly mocked him, but nevertheless, that was not legal reason to not pay as he had agreed to pay.
Don’t let this happen to you. As child support, a court in the State of Georgia, absolutely DOES NOT have the power to order you to pay for your children’s college education. Not a single pennies worth. The only way a court gains this power is if you agree to pay for your children’s college, in a settlement agreement. For the most part, since you can voluntarily pay for your children’s college education anyways, and you don’t need to have it made into a court order to do what you voluntarily want to do anyways, why would you ever give a Georgia court this power over you? In most cases, there is absolutely no good reason to do so. So JUST DON’T DO IT.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. The biggest exception is if you get something in return for agreeing to pay for your children’s college education. A very common reason is that you were going to pay anyways for the expense, but you get the other party pay their fair share as well. As an example, you were going to pay for 100% anyways, but if you can get the other parent legally bound to pay for 25% or 50% of the cost, you have just saved yourself money. It also puts the other parent’s skin in the game in regard to how much college will cost.
If you do decide to contribute to your children’s college expenses, and incorporate that into a legally binding obligation as additional child support, and you are doing so only because you are getting something in return for it, then you also have to draft the provision properly and place specific limits on the terms of what you will pay for, how much you will pay, and for how long.
Do not let happen to you what happened to the father I opened this video with, and do not let happen to you what happened to a notorious case in New Jersey where the child’s parent’s were ordered to pay for their daughter’s college education, despite the fact the daughter openly defied her parents, ran away, in fact was on tape berating them, besmirching their character, and acting in an appalling and spoiled brat manner. Nevertheless, the New Jersey court ordered her parent’s to pay. If it were me, I’d just say no, and bring in the television cameras when my daughter asks for jail her parent’s for failure to pay. But that is New Jersey.
The law in the State of Georgia for paying your children’s college expenses is different than those in New Jersey (the linked story is from New Jersey), unless you voluntarily agree to do so in a settlement agreement. Except in exceptional circumstances where you can gain an advantage, just never agree to do so in a legal document, and if you do agree to pay for your children’s college, make sure you protect yourself, and make sure you get something in return for doing so. This is an area of law where you can really hurt yourself without even thinking about it.
Contact us or call today to learn how Shaw Law can work with you to achieve the best outcome possible for you and your children.
Scott Shaw is founder and principle of Shaw Law Firm LLC, founded in 1995 and dedicated solely to divorce, family law and child custody matters that must be addressed and decided in the state of Georgia. Shaw Law Firm serves the greater Metro Atlanta area, particularly the counties of Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb, Cherokee, Forsyth, Paulding, Henry, Fayette, Coweta, Newton, Walton, Bartow and Douglas. Schedule a consultation today at 770-594-8309.