Do Divorced Parents Have To Pay For Our Children’s College Education?

June 3, 2024 | By Stephanie H. Winegrad

It depends . . .

If you reside in Pennsylvania, there is no legal obligation to pay for college as any support obligation ends when your child turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever is last to occur. 

Even though a Judge is prohibited from ordering a parent to pay for college, parents can agree to pay for their children’s college education. 

If you want to contract with your spouse to pay for college, it is important that the obligation is clearly stated.  Parents need to consider whether they to contribute an amount equivalent to the cost of an in-state, out-of-state, or public university. The child should apply for all grants and scholarships available to help reduce the cost.  The agreement should specify whether parents are paying for tuition only or whether they will contribute to room board and transportation.

Many parents contribute to 529 plans as a vehicle to save for their children’s college education. While the intent of the parties may be for the funds to be used for college, the account is usually titled in only one parent’s name and sometimes in the name of a third party, such as a grandparent.  If the account is titled in one of the parent’s names the funds are marital assets and part of the division of assets.  If the account is titled in the name of a third party, that person has control over the use of funds in the account.  Most parents will agree that the funds in a 529 account titled in one parent’s name will be used for the children’s college education. Any agreement reached should provide the non-titled spouse the right to obtain copies of statements and equal rights in how to use the funds.  The agreement should also address if there is extra money in the account after college tuition is paid, and how will those funds be divided, understanding that there will be tax ramifications.

Sometimes parents establish custodial accounts for their children to use for college expenses.  These funds belong to the child, not the parent, and therefore the custodian will decide whether to use the money for college or other expenses for the health and welfare of the child.  When the child turns 21 these funds are transferred to the child.  If there are custodial accounts, your agreement should address the use of the funds while the children are under the age of 21 and give access to the non-custodial parent to request statements.  Unless both parties agree, a parent can only request that the custodian be transferred to the other parent if the parent listed as custodian is inappropriately spending the funds in the account.

To learn more about a parent’s obligation to pay for college in New Jersey, read here.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.

About the Authors

Stephanie Winegrad - Conshohocken family law attorney

Stephanie H. Winegrad


Conshohocken Family Law Attorney Stephanie is a partner in the firm’s Family Law practice group, and has more than 25 years of experience in family law matters. As a highly skilled and...

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