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Handling college expenses during a divorce

Planning for a child's college education can be a major financial commitment for families in Washington. While that commitment can remain just as firm after divorce, it can be difficult to plan for university costs with all of the financial challenges that accompany the end of a marriage. This is especially true as college costs continue to rise; the College Board estimates that university tuition and fees rise an average of 3 percent every year. These increases come on top of already-high costs: every year of tuition, room and board and fees at a private university costs nearly $47,000, while the same at an in-state public university costs over $20,000 annually.

Divorce can affect existing plans to save for a child's education, including reducing the amount of funds that parents are able to save. Existing educational funds can also be managed as part of the divorce settlement. For example, many parents create specialized 529 accounts to save for their children's education. In general, these accounts are in the name of one parent and tax-free withdrawals must support a child's educational purpose. During the divorce, both parents could be named responsible for the 529 account or the account could be divided into two future accounts to continue college savings.

Court orders prioritize child support and spousal support over higher education savings. However, when negotiating a settlement with the other parent and their lawyers, divorcing parents can include provisions for balancing higher education costs as part of their divorce settlement. This can be particularly important during a high-asset divorce when parents have the assets for a significant contribution.

A family law attorney might be able to work with a divorcing parent to protect their interests and advocate for their rights in terms of asset division, child support and other issues. A lawyer may also work to ensure that key priorities are included and dealt with fairly during the final divorce settlement.

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