With school starting again, and college freshmen embarking upon a new chapter of education, it seems like a good time to discuss whether a Colorado court can order parties to a divorce to pay for a child’s secondary education. In the good old days, courts would enter such orders, and the child support statute had a specific provision for those exact kinds of orders. As a result, children who were “lucky enough” to have divorced parents could get an order that their parents had to contribute toward their college. But, those who were “so unfortunate” to have parents in an intact marriage were not similarly situated. Their parents could say no, or put conditions on payment, or expect the child to contribute. This result raised issues about public policy, equal protection, etc. and so the statute was amended.
Parents to a divorce can agree in their separation agreement to contribute certain amounts or percentages to their child’s college education, which the court can decide to approve and make an order of the court. Violations of that agreement, adopted as a court order, are subject to enforcement, including contempt. This can be attractive to a parent wanting assurances that the other parent will, in fact, contribute to the child’s college. However, the assurance is limited, as the agreement to contribute is modifiable.
As a court cannot order parents to pay for the children’s college education, this issue should not be one that derails your settlement. As a court cannot order it, you won’t have much leverage to just stand your ground for the other party to agree. However, depending on how important this is to you, with the understanding that it is modifiable, as part of negotiations you could agree to give on another issue in exchange for a college education agreement. If that is the result, specifics are key – Is it for tuition, room and board, books, travel? Is it for any school, anywhere? Is tuition responsibility limited to tuition comparable to Colorado in-state tuition at the time the child commences college? Is it for four years, for a bachelor’s degree to be obtained no matter how long that takes, does it include graduate studies, is there a time limit for when college must be commenced and then concluded? The devil is in the details, and all possibilities need to be considered in advance. Even then, though, the reality is the terms are subject to modification.