Beyond High School: The Cost of College for Divorced Parents
Divorce often brings about its fair share of financial challenges, and the hidden cost of college expenses only adds to the burden. As parents navigate the complexities of child support laws in Missouri, they must also consider the additional financial obligations that come with supporting their child's college education. This can catch many parents off guard, as they may not have anticipated the need to financially support their child beyond high school. It is crucial that parents know their rights and responsibilities under Missouri's child support laws.
Understanding Missouri Law
Under current Missouri law, child support continues past high school until age 21, as long as the child attends college or a vocational school. In addition, parents can also be obligated to pay college expenses until the age of 21. Pursuant to Section 452.340.5 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, for child support to remain in place and for parents to be responsible for college costs, the following requirements must be met:
- Hours Requirement. Child must enroll at minimum 12 credit hours per semester, not including summer. If the child works at least 15 hours per week during the semester, the required hours are reduced from 12 to nine credit hours.
- Grades Requirement. Child must successfully complete the required number of credit hours, meaning no failing grades in at least 12 hours per semester.
- No Time Off Requirement. Generally, the child must enroll by October 1 following the child’s graduation from high school. This means that if the child takes a semester off before starting college, typically, the child support obligation would terminate and could not be reinstated if the child enrolls in college after that point, even if the child is under age 21 when the child enrolls. In addition, the child must be continuously enrolled in school, meaning that child support would terminate and could not be reinstated if the child takes a semester off.
- Document Exchange Requirement. The child must provide transcripts or similar official documents to both parents at the beginning of each semester, detailing the child’s enrollment in classes and grades.
The law provides exceptions to the requirements above, including but not limited to a physical disability or other diagnosed health problem. In addition, the court will consider other circumstances that may justify a delay in starting school by October 1 after graduation or require a child to take a semester off.
If a child fails to meet the requirements above, the parent paying child support will need to file the appropriate documents with the court to initiate the court process to terminate child support.
If the child is enrolled in an institution and meets the requirements above, the parent paying child support, or the child, may petition the court to have child support payments paid directly to the child instead of paying the other parent.
How Collaborative Divorce Can Help
While the court in contested cases can only obligate parents to pay for certain expenses until age 21, many parents agree as part of their divorce judgment to pay for expenses past age 21 and to include these agreements as part of their settlement agreement. For example, both parents will pay 50% of college expenses for eight semesters or even later if the parents wish to pay for graduate school or medical school.
Through the collaborative divorce process, parents can reach creative agreements for post-high school expenses that will work for everyone. In a traditional divorce case, the attorneys and judge often do not have the capacity or ability to explore creative options. With the support of the financial professional and the cooperative dynamic of the entire collaborative divorce team, parents can explore options for dividing property or setting aside assets to capture the most available funds for the entire family.
Consulting with a collaborative divorce attorney will ensure that you are educated not only about the law, but about your options for working through the divorce process.
Breaking Apart While Pulling in the Same Direction
When most people think of divorce, what come to mind are words like “divisive,” “conflict,” “adversarial,” “battle,” and other terms describing anger, unhappiness, and disappointment. So how can a divorce be “collaborative,” and why is that a good thing?
A couple going through divorce started their marriage walking down the aisle together, planning a life together, and raising children together. Even when problems arose, the couple may, together, have sought the assistance of a marriage counselor or spiritual advisor.
Yet, if the couple decides the marriage has no future and they need to separate, the usual path is to hire attorneys and take what was a joint venture onto the battlefield where they will begin lobbing grenades at each other trying to achieve an all-out victory or, at best, a truce.
What’s wrong with this picture?
For starters, if the divorce war rages on, the children are inevitably caught in the crossfire, making everyone in the family miserable. Parents have an obligation to work together for the kids’ benefit in a partnership that doesn’t end when the children graduate college but, rather, that lasts a lifetime. Beyond that, each spouse’s life will be weighed down by continued sniping, which can lead to bitterness and endless resentment.
The Collaborative Divorce Process offers a radically different approach to divorce. It lets a divorcing couple focus on their future rather than on the sins of the past. It invites a couple to work together towards common goals, such as financial independence, a sound co-parenting relationship, and mutual respect in their post-divorce lives. It recognizes that divorce litigation rarely produces a clear winner and a clear loser but, rather, ends in a Pyrrhic victory, draining financial and emotional resources that take years to replenish.
In a collaborative divorce, spouses are supported by their own lawyers as well as by unaligned mental health and financial professionals, each of whom brings a different set of skills to the table. The lawyers, rather than focusing on strategic maneuvering, collaborating to help their clients work together to benefit the entire family.
Couples who choose the collaborative divorce process recognize that preserving their family’s well-being will require being attentive to the needs of all members of the family, including their soon-to-be ex-spouse. That doesn’t mean giving in; it does mean being willing to listen, and, in turn, being heard.
Judges have limited tools and limited time as they deal with an endless flow of divorce matters. Couples using the collaborative divorce process avoid the standardized approach of the courthouse. By rejecting a war and, instead, embracing a cooperative approach, they are much more likely to emerge well-prepared for their post-divorce lives.
Divorce represents both an end and a beginning. The collaborative divorce process invites couples to keep their eyes on the road ahead to create a better future for themselves and for their children.
Protecting Your Credit After Divorce
Many people overlook the importance of credit after divorce. From start to finish divorce can feel more like a whirlwind than an orchestrated and well-planned process. Most couples will only realize the importance of protecting their credit after divorce. The best approach to protecting your credit is to be proactive. I've outlined the basics of understanding your credit and steps you can immediately take to protect it.
3 Steps to Protect Your Credit Before, During, & After Divorce
What is Credit?
Credit refers to your ability to borrow. Your credit is a reflection of your reputation as a borrower. When you try to obtain loans or a line of credit your “credit” gives the lender information that tells them how likely you are to repay the loan or line of credit.
Understanding the Impact of Low or No Credit After Divorce
Your credit determines your ability to buy something without requiring an all-cash payment or a cosigner. So, if you have a low credit score or you have no credit history of your own, then it will be difficult to qualify for loans independent from someone else. Little or no credit can make it difficult to obtain a loan for buying a house, renting an apartment or buying a car. The inability to obtain these items independently can make it hard for people to begin a financially independent single life post-divorce.
How Do Lenders Acquire Credit Information?
Lenders, credit card companies, insurance companies, landlords, and even some employers will pull your credit report. Your credit report is a collection of information that tells them things like:
- Loans you’ve had in the past, how much you’ve borrowed on each loan, and your payment history on those loans. Whoever has pulled your credit is wanting to know how many times you were late in making payments. This information is used to tell the potential lender or landlord about your historical behavior in paying your debts. They will use this in determining how likely you are to pay on debts in the future.
- Loans you currently have and the minimum monthly payment of each loan. They also see things like the funds you could borrow if you wanted to – such as credit card limits on open credit cards. What they want to know is how much you have in minimum payments each month. Compare that total to your available income and then see how much you have left over to afford the new payment.
- Bankruptcy, foreclosure, account write-offs (such as an overdrawn bank account, unpaid medical bills, unpaid utility bills, etc). If you see an error on your credit report, then you can dispute it. The credit bureau will ask for certain information to show that you paid the debt in full and on-time.
Your credit report is the master document behind your credit score. It serves as your reputation for paying your debts and bills.
3 Steps to Protect Your Credit Before, During and After Divorce
- First step to protecting your credit after divorce: pull your credit report. You are allowed to pull 1 free credit report each year. For my clients, I make this part of the necessary documents in the divorce process. If someone is contemplating divorce, then I always recommend they pull their credit report sooner rather than later. And when I’m working with both spouses I have each person pull their credit report. The information from the credit reports allows us to see which accounts are open, even if they are not being used, and if they are individual accounts or joint accounts. Being informed is the first step in protecting your credit after divorce.
- Second step to protecting your credit after divorce: keep your address up-to-date. If you receive statements in the mail and you and your spouse decide to live separately during the divorce, then you will want those statements to come to your new residence. If you have joint credit cards or joint loans you will want to be able to access those statements electronically. Most lenders now have electronic statements available. Customers can login to their account and view them. Whenever possible, you should share this information with each other so you can each go in and look at the statement monthly.
- Third step to protecting your credit after divorce: for each loan you have – either jointly or individually – set up an automatic payment for the minimum payment. There’s a great deal to think about and take care of in the divorce process. Bills can escape immediate attention and get lost in the shuffle. Automatically making the minimum payment will save your credit score by avoiding late payment notifications. You will also benefit by avoiding those annoying late fees.
Critical Fact to Understand About Your Credit After Divorce
It’s important to remember that divorce won’t affect your credit directly, but for the reasons mentioned above, divorce can affect your credit indirectly. The best action you can take is to be proactive, be informed, and make sure you know the loans and accounts you are responsible for.
Be mindful that when your name is tied to a debt you are responsible for the payment - even when the divorce decree states your former spouse is responsible for it. So, if your former spouse fails to make a timely payment, or fails to make any payments after the divorce, then your credit can be impacted by their non-payment.
In most situations, the financial institution only cares about the name(s) associated with the debt. Unless your name is removed from joint debts in the divorce process, the financial institution will come to you for payment when your former spouse fails to pay.
Transitioning to the divorce process while planning for your financial future is multifaceted and requires a multipronged approach. Certain divorce processes support a better-planned transition than others. To learn about your Missouri divorce process options contact one of our experienced St. Louis Collaborative Law professionals today.
Nicole Davis is a certified divorce financial analyst, trained mediator and collaborative law professional. She is experienced with helping couples achieve a good financial settlement. To learn more about divorce finances give her a call or visit her website.
Buying a House After Divorce
If not already, then at some point in the future you and your spouse will live separately. Like many people, you may think about buying a house after divorce. If this is your goal, then there are several things you will need to consider. Protecting your finances will need to be a top priority. The sooner you start planning the more prepared you will be to accomplish your goal.
Here are 4 Financial Tips to Buying a House After Divorce
Establish Your Income
It will be important to establish your own income. For you, this may be easy or challenging. Perhaps you're established in your career and currently earn income. Or, perhaps you are receiving income from a pension, social security, dividends or interest. Regardless of your situation, it will be important for you to establish your income because lenders consider income as part of your ability to repay a mortgage. Sporadic income will reflect negatively on your ability to repay a mortgage.
Establish Your Cash Flow
The amount and frequency of your income will impact how much house you can afford. It will also determine the funds available to pay your monthly expenses. You will need to do an evaluation of the money available for housing expenses. This is calculated as:
Income - Basic Expenses (before housing) = Money Available for Housing Expneses
You will then need to calculate the expenses associated with buying a house after divorce. It might help to think of your expenses and how they fall into these categories:
- One-time Expenses
- Ongoing Monthly Housing Expenses
Once you know your ongoing monthly housing expenses you will calculate how much money you have left after basic needs and housing expenses - this is called discretionary income:
Money Available for Housing - Ongoing Monthy Housing Expenses = Discretionary Income
Helpful Tip: It can be challenging to think of all the potential expenses related to buying and owning a home. Here are some things to keep in mind about one-time purchase expenses and ongoing monthly expenses:
One-time Expenses of Buying a House After Divorce:
- Down Payment
- Closing costs
- Funding the escrow (prorated current year real estate taxes)
- First year of insurance premiums
- Appraisal fees
- Inspection fees
- Required repairs
- Title insurance
- Loan processing fees
Ongoing Expenses of Buying a House After Divorce
- Mortgage payment (principal, interest, taxes and insurance)
- Pest control
- Utilities: electric, gas, water, sewer, trash, cable, phone, internet
- Security system
Establish Your Credit
You will want to establish your own credit as soon as possible. This could take some time if you have little credit history or when your credit has been established jointly with your spouse. While married, you may not have opened loans or charge cards in your name individually. Most joint loans and credit cards are closed during the divorce process. The closing of those accounts can negatively impact your credit.
If this happens, then it can be difficult for you to qualify for loans and charge cards in your name solely. There are steps you can take to establish credit before, during and after divorce.
Protecting Your Credit
Unless you are paying cash, your credit will be the most important factor in your ability to buy a house. Therefore, it is very important to protect your credit before, during and after divorce. The best approach is to be proactive.
Here are some steps you can take today to protect your credit:
- Pay individual and joint bills on time, every time. This is true before, during and after divorce. The best way to do this is to set bills up on auto pay or request that your spouse do so. This will help you avoid unnecessary late fees, as well as unnecessary reporting to the credit bureaus. Life is busy and it’s easy to forget about certain bills. So, make your life easier by setting up automatic payments for everything that you can. Also, you may not know this, but creditors generally care about the name(s) of the individual(s) on the loan or account. They don’t generally care about the agreement outlined in the divorce paperwork. Therefore, they will try to collect payment from the people on the account. This may be different than than the agreement made in your divorce settlement.
- Pull your credit report. The best protection is prevention. Be informed and pull your credit report. You can pull your annual credit report for free. Review your report and make sure you know what accounts are open in your name – individually and jointly. If you and your spouse agree that one person will be responsible for a joint debt after divorce, then make sure the debt is either:
- Refinanced into the responsible person’s name
- There is some agreement to automatically make the payment and there is regular reporting of the payments made
- The joint debt is paid in full during the divorce process or as part of the divorce settlement
Transitioning the divorce process while planning for your future is multifaceted and requires a multipronged approach. Certain divorce processes support a calmer, better planned transition than others. To learn about your Missouri divorce process options contact one of our experienced St. Louis Collaborative Law professionals today.
Nicole Davis is a trained collaborative law professional. She is experienced with helping couples achieve a good financial settlement. To learn more about divorce finances give her a call or visit her website.
Divorce and Disappointment
Unfortunately, we all face disappointment at some point. It is a part of life. How you choose to deal with disappointment is what often matters most. You will face many feelings during a divorce and disappointment is a common feeling that many people face.
When you focus on the negative parts of a disappointing situation, you cannot see the opportunities you have. Being angry may cause you to take your feelings out on someone who does not deserve it. Feeling sorry for yourself causes you to be too busy thinking about yourself. It is tempting to strike out at the person or persons you identify as the cause of your disappointment. Anger, self-pity, and revenge will only make matters worse.
Focusing on the Future
While life is full of disappointments, it is good to remember that life is also filled with opportunities. To move past the disappointment in a positive way, first express your feelings appropriately. Talk to a friend. Write down, for yourself, what happened, perhaps in a letter. Then, destroy the writing. The writing is meant for you, and no one else. Put your upset in perspective. Few disappointments continue indefinitely. Stop and think about all the things that are good in your life.
Implement Helpful Tactics
You might need to change your plans. You might need to adjust your thinking. You do not have to allow someone, or something, to control your future. Remember, each of us is in charge of our own future, not someone or something else. Recognizing the disappointment, focusing on the future and implementing helpful tactics will allow you to move forward in a positive way.
The collaborative divorce process often engages a divorce coach. A divorce coach is trained in the emotions of divorce. To learn more about the collaborative divorce process or the skills of a divorce coach visit the St. Louis Collaborative Law Association's website for helpful resources and information.
About the Author : Gary Soule
Gary is an attorney and former member of CFLA.