In New Jersey, including provisions for paying for the kids' college has become a standard part of the parenting plan in divorce mediation agreements. Adding the realities of Covid 19 and the recent changes to the financial aid rules to the mix have made the decision-making process a little more complicated.
In our state, the courts have long viewed post-high school education as a necessity for which parents are at least partially responsible. Therefore, it should be part of every New Jerseyan's parenting plan in their divorce agreement. As tempting as it may be, ignoring this issue now will not make the obligation to contribute to your kids' education just go away. In fact, if you do not address college as part of your divorce agreement, you risk the Court later imposing its own plan on your family based on your children's needs and goals and both parents' resources. So, if you say nothing in your divorce agreement, you may end up paying more later than the plan you could develop now during the divorce process.
Over the past year and a half, the pandemic has made the process of selecting a college more challenging. In many cases, because of travel restrictions, students have had to choose where to attend based solely on virtual tours and information. Many school programs have been remote and/or hybrid, meaning students had to pay for school, yet live elsewhere. Now some schools are requiring vaccinations prior to entry, while others are offering financial incentives to those who vaccinate. Divorcing parents need to work together with their children through this potentially fraught decision-making process.
In addition, recently revised rules on the financial aid process have changed the way income and support are applied in financial aid applications. Moreover, the rules on student loan forgiveness are also in flux.
As part of the divorce mediation process, at Westfield Mediation, LLC, we help divorcing couples come up with a plan for choosing and paying for college for their kids regardless of how old their kids are now. We talk about all the relevant factors – programs, costs, decision-making, college savings plans and applying for financial aid. When needed, we can provide referrals to college financial aid advisors who can help parents complete their children's forms in a way that maximizes college support packages.
Of course, when your kids are young, it can be hard to predict your children's future educational needs and wants. Still, we have found that having a basic framework in place helps avoid big arguments and litigation expenses down the road.