Can I Be Ordered to Pay My For Kid’s College In My Colorado Divorce?
The general answer to this question is, “No.” Whether in a Colorado divorce, custody, or child support case, a court generally cannot order a parent to pay college costs for a child. Prior to July 1, 1997, and pursuant to the Colorado child support statute, C.R.S. 14-10-115, a court could order one or both parents to split the cost of college for their children. Today, the court has no jurisdiction to order payment of college costs unless the parties have agreed, in writing, to split that cost and that agreement has been made an order of the court.
If you are going through a divorce or custody case and are considering voluntarily entering into an agreement regarding college expenses you should really consult with a Denver divorce attorney prior to finalizing any such agreement. Optimally, any such agreement should contain specific provisions regarding dollar amounts or caps, what specific expenses are being paid, an end date, and perhaps even GPA provisions. Without the sound legal advice of an attorney, you may find yourself in a precarious position later on.
For orders entered prior to July 1, 1997 which could require the payment of college costs, the obligation of the payor parent would be capped at what his or her monthly obligation would be pursuant to the C.R.S. 14-10-115 guidelines. In such instances, any orders to pay actual child support would terminate and new orders regarding the specific payment of college costs would be established. In instances in which pre-1997 orders required payment of post-secondary education expenses, the time frame for payments to end was either age 21 or attainment of a degree, which ever came first. At this point in time, there might be a tiny handful of parents left who are forcibly required to pay college costs, as any child alive on July 1, 1997 would be 20 years old. Ultimately, this moot provision will be removed from statute all together.
C.R.S. 14-10-115(13)(b) specifically indicates that if the parents can agree to provisions regarding the payment of post-secondary education expenses. Once such an agreement is made, particularly in a divorce case, it will become a binding and enforceable court order. Sometimes, people handling their divorce case on their own (without an attorney) will agree to provisions regarding payment of college expenses, completely oblivious to the fact that they do not have to do so. Shockingly, people are often prompted to do so when they use the fill-in-the-blanks Separation Agreement form they can download on line. Conversely, people are often shocked at the notion that their former spouse, or the other parent, cannot be forcibly ordered to pay for college. The 1997 changes to the child support statute are, in part, a reflection of the fact that a court cannot order an intact family to pay for college for an adult child. Divorced or separated parents cannot be treated differently.
Another exceptional instance in which a parent can be forced to pay for college ties into already accrued college related debt. Perhaps one or both parents co-signed on a student loan for a child and are now getting divorced. A court would look at already accrued college debt taken out by the parents as something to be divided similar to credit card or other debt. Though a divorce court cannot order prospective payment of college expenses, it can certainly allocate college debt accrued during the marriage.
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