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:

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.

Missouri Divorce and Child Support

Parents naturally are most concerned about their children at the time of divorce. One of the most important issues to be decided is how and in what amounts the children will be financially provided for.

Missouri Form 14

The Missouri Supreme Court has developed a way of calculating the amounts needed for support of children: it is called the Form 14 and it is readily available on the internet. The Form 14 child support amount is based on the gross (before tax deductions) income of each parent, the number of children of the marriage and various adjustments to income, including (among others) the cost of work-related child care and health insurance for the children.

Calculating Missouri Child Support

The Form 14 seems deceptively simple. It might appear that all one needs to do is plug in the gross income of each party, along with some other expenses like day care, and then out comes a child support number. Calculating child support is not, however, as easy as it might first appear. For instance:

These and many other questions can cause distress and conflict when trying to come up with the “right” amount of Form 14 child support. Fighting this issue in court can turn into a bitter and expensive battle with your spouse.

Collaborative Divorce and Child Support

In the collaborative divorce process you and your spouse can look at your individual circumstances and come to creative solutions that meet the interests of each of you and, most importantly, your children. With the help of your collaborative attorneys, your coach, and your financial professional, you and your spouse can discuss what your actual expenses are for your children and then come to decisions about how you want to pay those expenses. Maybe you will decide that no child support money will flow from one parent to the other parent and that you and your spouse will each pay certain expenses or certain percentages of all of the expenses for your child. Or, maybe you will decide that it is right that one parent pay child support to the other and agree on the correct amount for your family. Or, you might conclude that an agreed upon support amount will be paid less than 12 months per year.

The options available to you in collaborative divorce for making decisions about what is best for financial support of your children are limitless. Using the collaborative divorce process to analyze financial support of your children allows you, with the support and help of your collaborative team, to take a deeper dive into thinking about what your children need and what you and your spouse will be able to afford after the divorce. Once you are armed with the facts, you and your spouse can make informed decisions about how best to provide for your children in your unique family situation.