Navigating College Costs When You’re Divorced

Navigating College Costs When You’re Divorced
Stacey Freeman

By Stacey Freeman | Apr 29th, 2018

A college education is one of the most significant expenses you will face during your child’s life. Multiply that figure by the number of children in your family and then pour yourself a drink. If you’re divorced, make it a double, especially if you don’t have a plan in place for how you and your ex-spouse will allocate college costs between you when the time comes. And take it from me, it comes fast, like in the blink of an eye. That’s why if you’re thinking about divorce or still negotiating yours, it’s wise to pay extra close attention to the parts of your agreement dealing with college, even if your kids are small. If you don’t, you may find yourself in a heated negotiation years after your divorce is final, a scenario you want to avoid if you possibly can. Here are a few ways to potentially lessen your burden.

Get Real

If you were a stay-at-home parent during your marriage, worked part-time, or made a lot less money than your spouse did, the reality is you’re still likely going to have to contribute something to college, and that something could add up to a lot. As you calculate your projected monthly expenses post-divorce, put this one on the list. As you’ll learn below, the cost of college encompasses a lot more than tuition.

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Start Saving

As in now, regardless of whether you have just a little bit or nothing at all earmarked for college. A $1500 investment today, depending on how many years you have to grow it, can be allocated toward books, a meal plan, housing, or tuition. If you’re short on funds or want to accelerate your present savings plan, you can get creative about finding extra dollars in your existing daily budget. Make your coffee at home, start bringing lunch to work, and sell the items around your house you no longer need or use, including the diamond engagement ring you stopped wearing after your divorce. At auction, your diamond can bring you thousands of dollars within a matter of days, which you can use to open a college savings account, such as a 529. Consult with a financial planner to find out the best savings vehicle for you.

Yes, there’s a little more to this college thing than merely showing up to class the first day. Depending on how far into the depths of crazy you go with your child, you can begin incurring college-related expenses years before your child applies. Expenses include SAT and ACT preparation, tutoring, the cost of the tests themselves (which students often take multiple times), transcript fees, college application fees, AP exams, and shockingly enough, the cost of applying for financial aid. These costs can add up to thousands of dollars over the course of the years preceding college. Add on college visits that may necessitate getting on a plane, staying multiple nights at a hotel, and road trips that can span days, you’re not talking about chump change. It’s safest to outline a system for distributing these upcoming expenses between you and your space before figuring out how you’re going to pay them.

Expect the Unexpected

Just because your agreement stipulates that your ex-spouse must pay X dollars toward college and college-related expenses doesn’t necessarily mean you will get it, which is why many folks find themselves seeking post-judgment remedies to enforce their divorce agreements or having to work around an uncooperative ex-spouse. It’s therefore smart to keep accurate records all along should this become the situation and prepare for the worst. Better to be pleasantly surprised than the alternative.

Keep your kids out of it

The college application process is stressful enough for kids without them having to hear their parents argue about it. Consider limiting children’s involvement regarding financial matters to how much their contribution will be toward college expenses, however small. Having skin in the game builds character and encourages responsibility, not to mention provides college-age students with a sense of control when their family situation may feel like it’s spinning way out of control.

Remember, where there’s a will, there’s a way

If you’re facing financial challenges related to paying for college, speak up. Ask questions and do your research. There may be resources available to you through your children’s high school, local community, and college financial aid office to assist you at different points throughout the college application process. Talk to others who have been through it already or consult with an expert who deals specifically with how to finance college. No matter how many years you went to school for, this may end up being your most valuable education yet.

Stacey Freeman

Stacey Freeman

Stacey Freeman is a New York City-based writer, lifestyle editor at, and the founder and managing director of Write On Track.


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