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College Expenses for Children

People frequently ask me about making arrangements in a Final Decree to take care of current or future college expenses for their children.

You first need to realize that under Texas law, a parent is not legally obligated to provide any support for a child once the child has turned 18 years old and has graduated from high school (whichever happens last).

I do not believe that a judge has the legal authority under Texas law to order you to assist with college expenses, but you can choose to enter into a contract with the other parent to help with college expenses in the future for your children.

You should be cautious about doing this because a child can always borrow money to pay for college expenses. If you are not already contributing to your own retirement plan, your money might be better spent providing for your own retirement than being obligated to pay for a child's future college expenses. You can borrow money for college, but you cannot borrow money for retirement.

Everyone knows that college is very expensive these days and that college costs have been growing faster than the general rate of inflation. If you choose to enter into an agreement in a final decree to help your children with college expenses, there are several things that you should keep in mind.

I have drafted a few agreements to deal with this situation. I usually include provisions that require the child to get a bachelor's degree on or before the child's 23rd birthday. If you have an agreement that calls for you to help with college expenses for a child, I doubt you want to be paying for the child to go back to college if the child decides to do when the child turns 35 or 40. I usually require the child to finish a bachelor's degree by the time he/she turns 23. If that does not happen, then the parent's obligation to assist with college expenses terminates and the child is on his/her own.

I usually include a provision that requires the child to take at least 15 semester hours each and every semester and to maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average. I include a provision that requires the school to mail grades to each parent while the child is in college.

I always recommend that you pay the school directly and not just give the money to the child so that he/she can pay the school. We have all heard stories about students who drop out of school and keep taking money from their parents because they are afraid to tell their parents they have dropped out.

You should be specific about what you are going to pay for and how much you are willing to pay. You might want to cap your expenses to what it would cost to send the child to a school that is in the state of Texas and to what you would pay for in-state tuition, etc.

Types of expenses you are willing to pay for might include tuition, required fees, room and board, automobile expenses, car insurance, health insurance, automobile maintenance, etc.

I usually include a provision that requires the child to attend each and every class unless there is a valid reason for not attending and I require the child to allow the school to provide the parents with attendance records for each class (if attendance records are available at that college).

I usually include a provision that the child will not change majors or change schools without the advance written consent of both parents. Otherwise you will end up paying more than you thought you would because changing schools and/or majors might mean some of the classes already finished will not count toward graduation.

Please feel free to call Ken Crain at 512-869-0131 if you have questions about this topic.

 
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