Knowledge Base

Post Divorce Mediation Part II:
               Payment for Schooling

September 2003
Written by CMDR Staff

What college shall Alice or John attend?

How much will it cost?

Who will pay?

If you could be an invisible visitor in the homes of high school juniors throughout the USA, undoubtedly you would hear these questions again and again. Yet, if it is a home where married couples and their children reside, no court or outside agency asks if you, as parents, are encouraging your child to attend college or how much you are willing to pay for this privilege. Obviously, decisions are made, but state involvement is largely absent.

A different situation often exists in homes where parents have been divorced. Indeed in many states these quite personal questions have been asked at the very time of the marital dissolution. Not infrequently, parents need to specify to the court their commitment for post educational funding. Problems occur, after divorce, when pledges are too vague to uphold and/or are violated. For example, divorce agreements often contain flowery statements attesting to the parties desire to send Alice or John to a school of his or her choice depending upon each parent’s financial situation at the time of enrollment.

Low and behold, time for John to go to college and parent one or two is suddenly in a financial bind. All of his/her resources were spent on a new house, new spouse, and “new” children. Now the question becomes “Why can’t Johnny pay his own way?” “Why can’t Alice go to a community college?” Typically, one of the two parents disagrees—feels he/she has been tricked at the time of the divorce and now the child has to suffer or the other parent has to bear the full responsibility for college tuition. While it seems contradictory and unfair to make divorcing couples answer questions about the future when married couples do not have to commit to a formalized pledge, in a sense, such early decision-making can foster judicious planning.

Ironically in most cases, this kind of post divorce dispute need never occur. At the time of divorce, the parties need to confront the very hard question of how to deal with the future costs of their children’s education. As far off as the situation may seem, it is far easier to wrestle with the issue now then later when remarriages or other intervening changes render decision-making more difficult.

At the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution our clients work through these knotty issues by exploring a variety of different options and deciding what makes the most sense for their children. Hard? Yes. Impossible? No. The problem solving approach utilized in mediation makes the impossible, possible.

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