No. North Carolina does not have jurisdiction to order payment of college expenses as part of child support. College expenses are considered the child’s legal obligation. You can choose to contractually obligate yourself to pay for college for your children, but that would require an agreement by all parties involved taking on that responsibility, such as including such a requirement in a separation agreement. An agreement to do so could also be memorialized in a Consent Order, but again that would require the agreement of the parties.
2. If I include a college expense provision, what issues should I consider?
Here are just a few issues you should consider:
- What percentage will each parent pay, or is one parent going to be responsible for payment?
- Is this covering just tuition or books, living expenses and other required fees?
- Do you want to include an age cap or years in school (for example, do you want this obligation to continue even though your child has taken 8 years to get an undergraduate degree?)
- Do you want a minimum grade requirement (for example, do you want to still be contractually obligated to pay for college when your child is getting many Fs or Ds in his or her classes?)
- Do you want to limit the cost to a particular school cost – such as no more than the cost of UNC-Chapel Hill, regardless of where your child attends school?
3. What happens if one of the parties breached the contract regarding college expense payment?
The child, who is benefiting from the provision, could sue for breach of contract due to being a third party beneficiary of the contract assuming they are no longer a minor. Or the non-breaching parent can sue the other parent for the breach of the agreement. If the agreement provides for reimbursement of attorney’s fees, costs or other damages due to breach of the agreement, those funds can be recovered as well. If an Order for Specific Performance is entered, ordering the breaching party to perform the contract, and they fail to do so, that party could be held in contempt of court thereafter and one of the remedies for contempt is incarceration.
4. I am not sure I want to sign up for paying college but would like to have some kind of agreement to contribute in some way to my children’s college expenses, are there other options?
You could consider including language that each party contribute a certain amount or percentage to a 529 account or some other kind of account designated for the children’s college expenses and include whatever limitations you agree to similar to those noted above. You should also consider what happens to those funds if your child does not utilize them for college.
If you have questions regarding whether or not you should include such provisions related to college expenses for your children as part of any settlement document you may enter into, please contact any of our Raleigh divorce attorneys for a consultation to discuss your particular concerns and they best way to address those.
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