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Paying for College- a unique twist?

newcstep's picture

I know there are already several posts about college expenses, but I believe we are in a fairly unique situation and I'm wondering if anyone has any insights about how it would work in this case.

My DH has a very clear CO that states mother and father must each pay 50% of all college expenses including tuition, housing, and other expenses. It states that the 50% is based on the actual cost to the child after scholarships, grants, and other aid has been factored in. Based on my employment, my company pays for my children's tuition. With a little more research and talking to HR, this will apply to skids as long as we are claiming them on our taxes. Currently, the CO allows BM to claim them EVERY year (despite the fact that my DH has 50/50 legal and physical and pays CS, but whatever his CO sucks). I should also add that after just a few more years of employment my tuition benefit is guaranteed even if I retire or become injured and unable to work. So the only way this realistically goes away is if DH and I divorce. So here are my questions:

1) If BM doesn't/can't pay 50% are we required to still pay 50%? Can the courts require us/BM to take on debt to pay for skids college?
2) In your option/experience if we went back to court armed with this situation, would the courts allow us to claim SD at least the years of and prior to college?
3) IF we are able to claim SD on taxes, and my company pays for her tuition, how will the 50% be calculated? Will my company's contribution count towards DH's 50% or will that be considered "other aid" and DH and BM will split housing and other expenses 50/50?

Personally, I feel like it is ridiculous to expect parents to pay 100% of all college expenses. My parents didn't nor do I plan to for my own bios. Despite those feelings, I'm really not trying to get out of paying. College is still about 10 years down the road for us. This is more for planning/budgeting purposes. Do I need to save 20K for college or will my work contribution take care of DH's portion? Honestly, I don't see how we will have the money in 10 years even with good planning since I still have 8 years left on my own student loans. Hence part of my preemptive worry.

newcstep's picture

Your POV is perfect... that's my situation as well. Any dependents claimed on taxes, (bios or skids) receive full tuition to where I work or 50% of our tuition to go wherever they want. And my work is a top end pricey school; so 50% of my work's tuition would cover 100% of the state school's tuition.

My real concern is the room and board, which in my state averages around 10k a year. So no, that isn't a minimal expense (at least not to me). I don't think we will be able to afford 20k, which would be our half over the course of 4 years. Especially considering we pay CS until 21 if SD is in college.

newcstep's picture

No we haven't told her yet. She despises everything about me and would HATE the idea that I could provide more for her child's education than she could. The only way she may know is if she has heard about this benefit simply by employer's reputation in the area. We are afraid of how/when to tell her. She is seriously the type who would refuse to allow us to claim SD just to be petty. I guess that's also why I want to have my ducks in a row and know if the courts will be on our side or not.

newcstep's picture

We have a lot of time here. I really am getting ahead of myself. SD is only 8, but we are talking about having our own bios, buying a new house in the next 5 years, and taking BM back to court. I'm just trying to get all of my long term financial ducks in a row.

ESMOD's picture

Once your benefit is guaranteed, I would pursue the modification so that you and DH can claim her.

The only sticky wicket would be if you DO get divorced... then the EX lost out on whatever benefit that would provide. Unless DH is willing to state he will pay 100% of tuition and 50% of the other expenses in exchange for being able to claim the girl.

That way, if you have a benefit.. he pays zero. If you break up... he will have to pay all the tuition. Of course, if you divorced after only a couple of years of him claiming.. perhaps it could be switched back to the prior agreement and he can compensate her for those years of claiming?

RE 3. I would say his share of other than tuition would be 50% though I might advocate that the child be responsible for covering some of that.

moeilijk's picture

"She is seriously the type who would refuse to allow us to claim SD just to be petty. I guess that's also why I want to have my ducks in a row and know if the courts will be on our side or not."

I'm not a lawyer, so my view may not be helpful, but it's my understanding that no court would look favourably on one party driving up costs for the other.

If your DH can save a significant portion of costs by claiming SD on taxes then I would expect that saving those costs would be 'required' inasmuch as BM couldn't ask DH to pay 50% of tuition costs that would otherwise be non-existent.

If you are lucky, there would be no need for DH to 'equalize' things by paying BM for the difference in taxes for claiming SD. If you are very lucky, BM would be on the hook for room and board since DH (via you) can pay for tuition in its entirety.

newcstep's picture

Well it's more a fear of things being unfair. For example, I had a friend in our state who sued her dad for his 50% share, but never asked mom to cover her required 50%. Instead my friend took out student loans for her mom's share. I just hate the idea of DH being forced to pay CS, carry all insurance, pay 50% of all college expenses, and BM sitting around paying nothing while receiving a nice CS check each month for a child that doesn't even live with her anymore. (okay rant over)

Thumper's picture

Since the child no longer lives with BM (taken from your words above) why doesn't your husband file a modification?

back to college...

This is between DH and his x. Besides 10 years away, anything can happen. It may be time to modify that current court order to reflect dh true custody not what is currently on paper. AND if dh is paying for majority of her upkeep (daughters) then dad should get tax exemption NOT BM.

Time to go back in a fix this. College can also be discussed and modified to reflect current laws on books depending on your state.. Google your states laws on parents paying for school. 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 is more like it not 1/2 for bm 1/2 for dad.

This is way off. The current order does not protect your dh, it protects bm. Dont fall for it protects the child...nope it protect the bm.

You can have a consultation with a lawyer to ask them to take a look at the current one.jmo

newcstep's picture

Sorry to confuse. I didn't mean that SD no longer lives with BM now. I was expressing fears over paying CS for her while she will likely be living away at college in the future. Currently DH and BM have 50/50.

Also, I have to disagree that this is simply between DH and BM. Their child, their decisions, yes. But my money is tied up in this. DH and I have combined finances and plan for our future together. So from a financial standpoint alone, I at least need to be aware of what the current CO states and how that could be interpreted or changed down the road. I agree though that anything can happen in 10 years. I am vary aware how far ahead of myself I'm getting. I'm just a planner and that large amount of money needs to be planned for.

z3girl's picture

The originally CO involving my SD said that college would be split between DH and BM. DH did not over details at the time, and assumed it was 50/50. SD was 10 when they divorced. When SD went to college, BM took DH to court to get more tuition covered by DH AND keep CS even though SD was living on campus. In the end, DH was ordered to pay 65% of tuition (including dorm as long as it's on campus and reflected on a term bill.) Luckily, CS was pro-rated only to the amount of time that SD was home home from school. (CS went until SD was almost 23).

DH was caught off guard at the time, not expecting to pay both CS and more than 50% of the college costs. Luckily DH is good with money and earns well, so it was not an issue. SD was not expected to pay anything herself, but she did have to apply for all loans, grants, scholarships possible. She ended up with minimal loans to repay.

I think it's good to plan ahead. I think you would be better off getting all this figured out formally ahead of time instead of hoping to do one thing, and find out that you owe more simply out of spite from BM.

newcstep's picture

That's a hard situation for you and your DH. Our sate is a CS until 21 if in school state, so I'm counting on paying CS at least until then.

I do agree doing it formally would be better, but unfortunately that isn't a good option for DH right now. DH's lawyer advised him to wait until he could afford to go back and take care of ALL the issues, which we just don't have the money for right now. Agreeing to a CO that only addresses one issue also means you are accepting all the other bad things. Once the new CO is agreed to, you can't go back and change it without showing a change in circumstances.

Thumper's picture


Absolutely you should be fully aware what is going on inside/outside a court order. It greatly effects your future and retirement plans moving forward.

There are fabulous articles from Forbes and others on this subject of parents paying for college that may surprise you very much.

Granted you do not know any of us here but many of us come with 20 years experience under our belt with ex's and step children. PLEASE be very careful with this. You sound like a very nice women.

I do hope your husbands ex is a reasonable and trust worthy women. Just because she is ordered to pay 1/2, does not mean she will. Are you willing to be responsible for a Phd tuition if step daughter desires to get her doctorate in education, medicine or psychology. Your marriage could be under great obligation and stress.

Planning for the future starts with making sure YOUR future is protected, independent of arrangements you had zero and I mean zero input on about their daughter years ago.

newcstep's picture

Thank you. It really means a lot to have support and experience to rely on. I don't have any close friends or family who have ever experienced step issues. I am also new, not just to stalk but to being a stepmom. My DH and I have been together for almost four years, but married for less than one. Truth be told, I'm terrified. No I absolutely cannot afford to pay for 1/2 of her education through post grad (and still hope to have my own children), but if I'm interpreting things correctly, that's the current CO.

newcstep's picture

Thanks those are all great questions to be asking. Many that I've already asked myself, and some I haven't thought of. I'm sure you meant for those to be rhetorical questions, but I'm going to answer anyway (because that's literally how worried I am about this). As I said to DH last night, I'm trying to look at all possibilities so that I can plan for the worst and hope for the best.

1. That's fine. My work will still give up to 50% of my school's tuition to go anywhere.
2. I feel bad for her, but I guess that's her parent's problem not mine, and we keep our money?
3. Work will still cover tuition, but I don't THINK CO would still apply. I'm sure DH would still want to contribute whatever we could, but at least the burden of being forced to do it would be gone.
4. My work benefits are not dependent on grades.
5. Work would not cover tuition, but I don't think CO would apply either. That would be a bad choice on SD's part to lose out on all that free tuition.
6. Work benefits are limited to 4 years and an undergraduate degree only.

newcstep's picture

Yes, if we cannot claim her, DH has to pay 50% of all expenses out of pocket or take loans in his name. (Unless we are otherwise able to change CO before then.)

Yes I believe you are also correct that we would have to claim her for 3 years prior to college as well as during college. That's the number that sticks in my head after all my research anyway. I'm definitely hoping we can talk to her about it and have any necessary court dealings done before that time.

MineAndYours's picture

1) If BM doesn't/can't pay 50% are we required to still pay 50%? Can the courts require us/BM to take on debt to pay for skids college?

Yes your DH is required to pay 50% even if BM doesn't. That's like saying if DH doesn't pay CS...BM doesn't have to feed the kids.

2) In your option/experience if we went back to court armed with this situation, would the courts allow us to claim SD at least the years of and prior to college?

No. The most you may get is alternating years as you both have 50/50 unless BM is on board to have the whole tuition paid.

3) IF we are able to claim SD on taxes, and my company pays for her tuition, how will the 50% be calculated? Will my company's contribution count towards DH's 50% or will that be considered "other aid" and DH and BM will split housing and other expenses 50/50?

The 50% will still be calculated as 50% on other expenses. Your companies contribution to tuition will count as DH's 50% on tuition portion only. The courts don't care how you pay the 50%...just so you pay it.

GhostWhoCooksDinner's picture

I'm with you, OP. Since when is paying for an ADULT'S college education part of parenting. Parents in intact families aren't required to. Is it payment for the emotional damage of being a poor wittle COD? If you can afford to help your kids and want to, great. But it shouldn't be court ordered.

newcstep's picture

THANK YOU! I'm not sure my DH fully gets that. I'm not trying to say we shouldn't pay for SD's college. I want to be able to help as much as we are able. It's just that I don't want to be forced to pay more than we can afford and maybe rob our bios of getting anything at all.

Rags's picture

From what you wrote the CO is very clear. The 50% will include any costs after scholarships, etc.... Your tuition benefit will count as a scholarship and your DH will be responsible for 50% of remaining costs as will BM.

If BM does not pay her share it will likely be up to SD to take legal action to collect from her mom.

Our CO and the supplemental county rules in the jurisdiction where our CO was issued required the NCP to continue paying CS through age 22 as long as the kid is a full time student in good academic standing with the school. The only difference would be that CS would go directly to the SKid instead of to my wife. In the event of BioDad not payment SS would have had to call the DA for enforcement.