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This Web site contains a compilation of more than a thousand consumer finance  columns written by Tony Novak from the 1980s through 2006, updated and reformatted for maximum usefulness today.  New material was added after 2010.

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Parent's responsibilty for tuition

originally posted: 11/22/2006  reposted: 2/18/2011 This post has not been recently reviewed or revised by the author and may be out of date. If you notice an error or are in doubt, please send a new question by email or ask for an update. Email

Q: Is a divorced parent legally responsible for paying for a child's college tuition?

A: This is not an easy topic to address because of the differing laws in each state, the policies of the federal Department of Education, the varying procedures of some Colleges and the social attitudes of parents. A recent study shows that 2/3 of American parents, regardless of income, feel an obligation to pay for their children's' college costs. But what about the other 1/3? College financial aid systems are based on the ability of each parent to pay, not the willingness to pay. The Department of Education does not require parents to submit financial data, but students who do not submit financial information from both parents, regardless of custodial status, may be ineligible to receive financial aid. So an uncooperative parent can prevent a student from receiving financial aid to which he or she might otherwise be entitled. This year about 75 colleges are using a new system of calculation family contributions and financial aid for the children of divorced parents that does not even consider the law, court orders or pre-nuptial agreements. The system even requires the confidential disclosure of financial information to the institution from the spouses of re-married parents. No one is forced to comply - but financial aid will be denied if the family does not cooperate. Divorce courts commonly require parents of children under age 18 to participate in the financial aid process, but the Courts generally do not award support after the child reaches age 18. This varies from state to state. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently upheld the position that a non-custodial divorced parent has no responsibility to pay tuition. At the other extreme, children of divorced parents in Illinois are afforded better assurance of tuition bills than the children of married parents.


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