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Does Your Divorce Settlement Cover College Tuition?

College tuition may comprise a large chunk of your divorce settlement, but it shouldn't be unexpected. It was a bit of a surprise for one New Jersey father who was ordered to pay half of his daughter's Cornell Law School tuition -- a whopping $112,500. What settlement language should divorcing spouses focus on when considering future tuition obligations? Child Support for 18+ Although the term "child support" may be misleading, divorce settlements can guarantee support for children of divorcing spouses well into their 20s. Depending on the terms of your child support agreement -- which is often negotiated as part of a divorce settlement -- child support might continue after a child turns 18. In many instances, child support obligations to adult children are governed by state law. But it may also come down to the specific terms of an ex-spouse's divorce settlement agreement. If your agreement outlines specific parental obligations for a child if he or she chooses to attend college, you will likely be held to those terms. You can, of course, attempt to modify your existing child support agreement once a child turns 18 or decides to attend college or graduate school. But absent any major changes in your child support agreement, you may still owe child support toward an adult child in college or grad school. Paying for or Choosing Schools Depending on the specific terms of your child support order and/or divorce settlement agreement, you may have control over whether your child goes to an expensive out-of-state school. Married couples often disagree on this topic, so it isn't any surprise that ex-spouses might come apart when deciding which school is appropriate for their children. Much of the guesswork can be avoided if the divorce settlement or child support order contains specific provisions regarding: How much tuition each spouse is responsible for; Who has the final say in deciding which school to attend; Payment obligations for living on- or off-campus; and Meal plans, books, and other class-related expenses. If these areas are left unexplored, it may be left to a family court judge to delve into each spouse's expectations and the child's best interests to determine college choice and how much tuition is owed by a parent. Consulting an experienced child support attorney can help remove many of these if's and maybe's about whether your divorce settlement covers college tuition. Related Resources: Honors Student, 18, Sues Parents Over Paying for College (FindLaw's Legally Weird) Does Child Support End Upon Graduation? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Legal How-To: Modifying Child Support (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Divorce: Child Custody and Religion (FindLaw)
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Legal How-To: Becoming a Guardian

Legal guardians can be appointed to take care of children and incapacitated adults. So how does one become a legal guardian? Becoming a legal guardian requires a court order. Once the guardianship relationship is established, the guardian will be legally responsible for the care and supervision of minors or adults who are unable to care for themselves. Here are the basic steps toward becoming a guardian: Fill out and file forms with the court. The first step you need to take to become a guardian is to fill out the appropriate forms and file them with the court. You should obtain forms from the county where the person needing a guardian lives. For example, in California, a potential guardian will need to fill out a Petition for Appointment of Guardian (among other forms), file the forms, and give notice to the appropriate people and agencies. This will probably include relatives of the person you're seeking guardianship over. Provide proof that the person needs a guardian. In some scenarios, like if a child's parents pass away, it's evident that a guardian is needed to step in. For children, the court will look at the child's best interests in deciding if you're the best guardian choice. However, for incapacitated adults, you'll need to provide proof that the person has a disability that imposes great limitations upon his ability to take care of himself, earn a living, or live independently without the care of others. For incapacitated adults, the court will likely only give guardians the power to oversee the things the individual can't accomplish by himself. Prepare for a court investigation. Once the forms have been processed by the court, a court investigator will prepare an investigative report. When minors are involved, a court investigator will likely visit the home and interview the child and her family and conduct background checks on the guardian. For adults needing a guardian, they'll likely need to undergo a psychological evaluation that will be presented to the court. Attend a court hearing. Guardianship issues are usually decided by a family court or probate court. Some cases are straightforward. But if there are unresolved issues -- including questions about your fitness as a potential guardian or the capacity of the person to be placed under guardianship -- a judge may order a trial. If that happens, you may want to seek help from a legal professional. Need More Help? While you're allowed to represent yourself at a guardianship hearing, it's a good idea to at least consult a family law or probate and estate planning attorney for more guidance on how to present your case. Local attorneys will be familiar with your local courts and judges, and will be able to offer advice tailored to your unique situation. It may also be wise to call an attorney when you're beginning the guardianship process, to make sure you're going through the steps correctly. To learn more, check out FindLaw's comprehensive section on Guardianship. Are you facing a legal issue you'd like to handle on your own? Suggest a topic for our Legal How-To series by sending us a tweet @FindLawConsumer with the hashtag #HowTo. Related Resources: How to Establish Guardianship of a Child FAQs (FindLaw) What is Guardianship of a Child? The Legal Battle Over Michael Jackson's Kids (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) 3rd Party Guardianship Petition OK in "Octo-mom" case (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life) Sign Up for Our Free Legal Planning Newsletter (FindLaw's Legal Heads-Up)
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