Children of Divorce Pay More for College

March 9, 2011

Time.com recently posted an article titled: 5 New Reasons to Get (or Stay) Married this Year. What was their number one reason? Children of divorce pay more for college.

The article cites an analysis of student financial aid statistics which concludes, generally, that parents who are divorced contribute less to college expenses than parents who are married. And, even if a parent divorces and then remarries increasing their household income, they still contribute a smaller percentage of that income to college expenses. The article states that, according to the study, a college student with divorced parents pays an average of 58% of all college expenses, whereas a college student whose parents are still married pays only an average of 23% of all college expenses. For a college student whose parents divorce, and then remarry, the student pays an average of 47% of all college expenses.

As a San Diego family law attorney who handles child support cases, I have been asked whether a court can order a parent to pay for a child's college expenses. In my experience, absent an agreement between the parents, a judge will not order a parent to pay for a child's college expenses.

One reason for this is because in California parents generally only have an equal responsibility to support their minor children in the manner suitable to the child's circumstances. Family Code section 3900. And while Family Code section 3911 does extend this duty of support to an unmarried child who has attained the age of 18 years, is a full-time high school student, and who is not self-supporting, until the time the child completes the 12th grade or attains the age of 19 years, whichever occurs first, the obligation still generally stops upon graduation from high school (or age 19 if the child is still in high school).

However, because Family Code section 3911 does not limit a parent's ability to agree to provide additional child support, if a parent would like to agree to pay for a child's college expenses they may do so and that agreement can be made a court order.